Corpus Christi

The Gospel of today is taken from Jesus’ explanation of the meaning of the multiplication of loaves according to Saint John. Matthew doesn’t give us that explanation. As an alternative we could have chosen the scene of the Last Supper. But that would have been a repetition of Holy Thursday.

The Feast of Corpus Christi is an occasion to express our thanksgiving for the Holy Sacrament. It is a day of adoration. Although the Sacrament is first of all meant to be consumed and to be transformed in my person in order that I will be the place of Jesus’ real presence in the world, adoration forms part of our tradition. So I choose the text in Matthew’s Gospel where a special honour (adoration?) has been given to Jesus’ person.


Matthew 26:6-13

26:06   Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon,

a man who had suffered from a virulent skin-disease,

26:07   when a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive ointment,

and poured it on his head as he was at table.

26:08   When they saw this, the disciples said indignantly, 'Why this waste?

26:09   This could have been sold for a high price and the money given the poor.'

26:10   But Jesus noticed this and said, 'Why are you upsetting the woman?

What she has done for me is indeed a good work!

26:11   You have the poor with you always, but you will not always have me.

26:12   When she poured this ointment on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.

26:13   In truth I tell you, wherever in all the world this gospel is proclaimed,

what she has done will be told as well, in remembrance of her.'


The feast of Passover is near. Jesus announces once more that he will be handed over to be crucified. The High Priests and the Priests are making plans to arrest him. At that moment we hear the story about his embalming during the meal in the house of Simon the Leper.

These introducing lines cast a shrill light upon this episode, a threatening drum roll in the background. The threatening drum roll is reflected in the reaction of the disciples when the woman pours out the myrrh upon Jesus’ head.

What must it have meant for Jesus always to be surrounded by hostile behaviour?


The Greek text doesn’t use the word ‘anointment’. The word ‘anointment’ refers to Jesus’ title ‘the anointed one’ (‘Christos’). Matthew is not using the word ‘chrisma’, but ‘myrrh’ (muron). It was used as a fragrant and precious perfume, specially for weddings.

It is mentioned several times in the Song of Songs. So, what is this woman doing with Jesus? Is her gesture a declaration of love and high esteem? Does she bring the Song of Songs to reality in Jesus’ life?

Myrrh is also used for funerals. Jesus himself refers to that. It is surprising that at this moment Jesus already knows the circumstances of his own burial: that there will be no time to embalm his body. By mentioning his own burial Jesus shares - so to speak - the threatening drum roll.

We can only imagine what impression these words must have made upon the disciples and the other people present at that moment. Striking as well is the fact that we don’t hear the name of the woman, although Jesus is giving her the highest esteem: what she did makes up an essential part of the proclamation of the Gospel.

Since her name is not mentioned I can ask myself, ‘Could I have been this woman? Could I have done what she does for Jesus?’

Picture Meditation

The composition of this picture is surprising. First, attention is drawn towards Jesus and the Apostles around him. All men. Very present. They take up the whole upper part of the painting. And even the lower part is mainly taken up by the two disciples of whom we see their backs only.

All of them seem to be making agitated gestures, crying and shouting. Peter on Jesus’ right, Judas on his left, the others behind him: they do not sit (let alone lying!) at  table any more, they are standing behind Jesus as a wall... Drum roll.

The disciples are talking about money. The gesture of pouring out the perfume itself is an expression of something totally different.

The scene of Jesus and the woman takes place under the table, quite far away from all the noise. Why would the artist have chosen this composition? The main part of the story - the woman’s intimate gesture of love and high esteem... the realisation of the Song of Songs, respectively the realisation of paying her last respects plus Jesus’ expression of appreciation... this main part takes up only a very small place in the picture. Why?

Looking at the dress and the hair of the woman I have the impression that the artist interprets her as a prostitute. In that case she spends all the riches she gained in her profession to this man, Jesus. An act of true love and intimacy. And Jesus accepts and appreciates it. In spite of all the arguing men around him.

I notice how the red of the woman’s dress is reflected in the colour of Jesus’ cloth behind the table and in the colour of the disciple just behind him. Is that John, the apostle who will write in a later letter, ‘God is Love’?

I count only ten disciples. Two of them must be located outside the picture. Could I have been one of them? Or can I identify myself with one of the pictured disciples? Or could I be the figure in the foreground who is bringing the jar with myrrh?

Do I recognize in my life or in the world of today that people transform an act of love into a calculation of the costs?

Finally I have a talk with some of the disciples, with the woman, with Jesus...