One of the most common questions I run into is the question, do you believe the Bible is true. I also give the Catholic answer. I believe that every story in the Bible conveys a truth, the truth or truths that God wanted us to know when he inspired the writer. The Bible contains some history but is not a history book. It contains some geography but is not a geography book. It contains some astronomy but is not a book on astrophysics. The Bible is a theology book, and as long as we read lit as a theology book we will have no problem.
Of the four evangelists John is the one who understood this most clearly. As the last of the four gospel writers John does not feel constrained to report either the history or the geography with modern scientific precision. John's only concern is the message, the good news and so he feels free to retell the stories in the way that best conveys the message. Today's gospel is the perfect example.
If we compare John's version in chapter 12 to the older version of the same story in Mark 14 we see that the story has been completely reshaped. In Mark, it is two days before passover. The location is the house of Simon the leper. The woman (unidentified) come is with an alabaster jar. The ones who question why the oil was not sold and used for the poor are a group, "some who were there."
John in order to help us see the deeper meaning tells the same story but relocates it, recasts it. In John's version it is six days before passover (a symbolic number). It takes place in the home of Lazarus, the one who was raised from the dead. Martha is once more serving and it is her sister Mary who had sat at the feet of Jesus who now brings the costly perfume. We are told that she bought it specifically so she could have it for the day of his burial. The one who questions why the oil is not sold for 300 days wages and given to the poor is Judas. John has retold the story in a way that every detail is packed with significance.
St. John is called by the titles Apostle, Evangelist, and Theologian. Nowhere do we call him St. John the Historian. He is credited with giving us a gospel, three letter, and the Book of Revelation, all inspired by God, all with the same purpose, to take us beyond the surface, to help us to understand that the real truth is not found in the so called facts. The Truth is a person, Jesus the Christ. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. What modern historians call truth, what the media calls facts are of little importance to him.
This week the television is filled with shows claiming to give us the historcal Jesus, or other biblical figures. If we watch such programs at all, we should watch them with a certain skepticism. Beware of those who claim to know more than it is possible to know. The more sensational the story, the less likely it is to contain any truth, and in our time you can always find some expert, some person with a doctorate to say any crazy thing you want.
Holy Week is a time to immerse ourselves in the scriptures, to listen to the story of our salvation not only with our ears but with our hearts. If we mediate on the stories that we think we know, through his Word, God will constantly communicate to us a new, deeper understanding of the mysteries contain therein. Let us dedicate this week to hearing the Truth, from the source, God who revealed himself compleley in the person of Jesus Christ.