Rain on me, rain, rain - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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She poured the alabaster jar of perfumed oil on his head (Mt 26:7).

Where I grew up in Michigan, the Lenten and Easter time of year aligned with the end of winter and first rains and new life of spring. Where I live now in Tanzania, just south of the equator, Lent and Easter do not align with the spring season the way they align in the northern hemisphere.

The most spring-like season in Tanzania is when the dry season ends with the first rains of the year, usually in late October. The first rain here, after a hot dusty three to four-month dry season, are a relief. Water falling from the sky is a wonder of nature and gift from the heavens. After the rains begin, the landscape quickly changes from dusty brown to a lush green.

Artisans who make fragrance oils agree that the smell of fresh rain is the best smell in the world. Many have tried to duplicate the scent of fresh rain (it could be lucrative for perfumes, especially if added to detergents and household cleaners), but none have ever succeeded in replicating it. The reason they often give for their failure is the complexity of the smell.

The smell of fresh rain, known by its technical name petrichor, combines so many elements. Water droplets create fine aerosols on impact, lifting oils and organic compounds exuded by plants and soil into the air. Some of the component smells are seemingly undesirable — spilled oil on a blacktop road, for example. In short, artisans say the smell of fresh rain is too complex to reproduce or capture in a bottle.

Though we read it every year, the story of Christ’s passion and resurrection comes as a fresh relief, like the first rain of the season. And like the smell of fresh rain, life is a mixture of many elements, some of them undesirable. Without suffering, would I recognize joy? Without sin, would I know my need for salvation?

Today’s lengthy Gospel reading of Christ’s Passion (Mk 14:1—15:47) starts with the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume, infuriating some men who argued that she could have helped poor people by selling it for profit.

But Jesus tells them, “She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me. She has done what she could. She has anticipated anointing my body for burial. Amen, I say to you, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

The woman knows God’s love and mercy cannot be assigned a value in economic terms. Like the smell of fresh rain, God’s love cannot be reproduced, captured in a bottle, a building or even an institution.

Rather than try to suppress or control our thoughts, we can ask God for the courage to let his love and mercy rain down on this mess of our minds. The results promise to be beautiful beyond our imagination.

Questions for Reflection

    • Are there areas of your life, or in the natural world around you, in which undesirable elements coexist with the more pleasant ones?
    • Can you imagine God’s grace transforming them together into something beautiful?

Scripture reflection for the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Palm Sunday, March 24, 2024.

This reflection is part of MOGC’s 2024 Lent Reflection GuideFor more scripture reflections from Maryknoll lay missioners, click here.

Steve Veryser
Based in Mwanza, Tanzania, Steve Veryser is Maryknoll Lay Missioners' area director for Africa and Asia. He also teaches math to deaf students at Bwiru Boys Technical Secondary School. Steve and his wife, Loyce, have been Maryknoll lay missioners since 2018.