With so much Scripture proclaimed today, it’s difficult to zero in on any other theme except gratitude for Jesus’ death and resurrection. Yet, at the beginning of Sunday’s Passion narrative (Mk 14: 1-15: 47), Jesus says something which ties all three readings together; it’s a concept with which all of us can identify.

Defending the woman who poured expensive perfume over His head, Jesus reminds His cruelly critical disciples of one of Christianity’s essential beliefs. “Leave her alone!” He shouts. “Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me....She has done what she could.”

From childhood, I was told to imitate saints: people who performed stupendous actions, lived completely unselfish lives, accomplished great things for Jesus and the Church. But I quickly discovered that I really couldn’t imitate them. My faith and my world weren’t the same as theirs. I simply couldn’t do what they did. So I bemoaned my fate and consoled myself with just keeping those rules and regulations - the bare minimum - which guaranteed that I’d get into heaven one day.

Little ways

It’s clear from the way Mark narrates Jesus’ passion and death that He didn’t intend His followers to do just the bare minimum. Yet His church’s usual practice of canonizing exceptional, high-profile people seems to have dead-ended His plans. That’s why Therese of Lisieux’ early 20th-century canonization touched something in the hearts of all Catholics. She was the saint of “the little way:” someone who achieves holiness by simply performing her everyday tasks in an exceptional way. She did “what she could.”

The basic problem with Jesus’ disciples in this passage is that they have a single, pre-conceived idea of how one is to live his or her Christianity in this context: by well thought-out, non-wasteful acts of generosity to the poor. This woman’s spontaneous, exorbitant gesture doesn’t fit their category.

But though they label her action ridiculous, Jesus calls it an action of love: something she was able to do in a way no one else - including those critical disciples - was able to do. Our early Christian authors hold up no one but Jesus to imitate. As Paul reminds his Philippian community (Phil 2: 6-11), Jesus “emptied Himself.” Whatever Jesus was - however God created Him - that’s what He gave. He didn’t compare His giving with anyone else’s giving. For Him, it was important to give all of who and what He was.

Using our talents

Such uniqueness is also part of Deutero-Isaiah’s third song of the suffering servant: the first reading (Is 50: 4-7). Though most of us stress the suffering the prophet experiences, notice the first part of the passage. “Yahweh God,” he says, “has given me a well-trained tongue that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.” Since not everyone has a “well-trained tongue,” not everyone is sent to rouse the weary. But because God’s given such a tongue to Deutero-Isaiah, he uses it to help others.

Our sacred authors presume God also has given us unique gifts, gifts even the greatest saints never had. Biblical writers would be amazed that we’d lust after the saints’ gifts and ignore our own.

Notice that Mark describes almost none of Jesus’ physical suffering in His Passion narrative. That’s because he presumes that almost none of the people for whom he writes will ever imitate Jesus’ physical pain and death. On the other hand, he’s certain the psychological suffering he does describe is part of each Christian’s life once they start to share themselves with others.

It’s ironic that the greatest psychological suffering we might be called upon to endure could be generated by other Christians who see us doing something they weren’t programmed to do, something they don’t expect or want us to do.