Scent of the Gospel

Interview With Biblical Scholar Núria Calduch Benages

By Miriam Díez i Bosch

ROME, DEC. 20, 2007 ( Jesus Christ, with his words, gestures and works, emanates a fragrance, which a biblical exegete calls the perfume of the Gospel.

Núria Calduch Benages, Old Testament professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University, is the author of “Il Profumo del Vangelo: Gesù Incontra le Donne” (The Perfume of the Gospel: Jesus Encounters Women), published by Paulist Press.

In this interview with ZENIT, the author comments on this fragrance, and on Christ’s encounters with women.

Q: What is the perfume of the Gospel?

Calduch: The perfume of the Gospel is nothing other than Jesus Christ: That which emanates from his words, from his gestures, and from his works; a perfume of nard, pure, very expensive — the fourth evangelist will write later — whose fragrance filled the whole house at Bethany, where Jesus was found eating with his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus six days before the Passover.

“The Perfume of the Gospel” presents various encounters of Jesus with women, some of which were characterized by the presence of perfume; an element full of connotations and rich in symbolic significance which, according to the context, permits various interpretations.

Q: What happens when Jesus encounters women?

Calduch: Nothing strange and exceptional, but all his encounters were born from his gratuitous love manifested in his preference for the poor, the little, and people marginalized from society for many reasons. All the women appearing in the book belong, in some way, to that category of society’s victims, either because of her sex, because of her illness, because of her work, religion or nationality.

Jesus met the unclean Israelite woman with the hemorrhage, a Canaanite woman from the Greek culture, a public sinner and many other disciples who, once they followed Jesus, had no fear of violating the male-centered system that dominated Israel in the first century.

Jesus openly spoke out in favor of these women and, becoming one with their pain — physical or spiritual — brought into being a new trend in humanity.

Q: What symbolic role does perfume or fragrance have in the Gospel?

Calduch: Perfume is a refined liquid used for special and unusual occasions. It is not used like water. Perfume is delicate and costly. We remember the pure nard perfume which filled the house of Mary of Bethany with its fragrance [cf. John 12:3], or the verse about the sinful woman at the feet of Jesus in Simon the Pharisee’s house [cf. Luke 7:37-38].

Perfume is not given to just anyone, nor is it wasted pointlessly. It is a present to be given to those people who are especially cherished. So, perfume is the fragrance of gratitude. Perfume symbolizes love’s triumph.

Q: Your book has a very interesting end; there is a rough sketch of the figure of Jesus as the “Wisdom of God.” What does the wisdom of Jesus have to do with women?

Calduch: The figure of Jesus as Wisdom of God seems appropriate for our agitated world, but it is also a critical counterpoint. His acts continue being acts that our world needs: The blind see, the lame walk, the dead rise, and the invitation to the table of Lady Wisdom is a language every human being of today can understand.

Awareness of life is something we all need, in order to know that life doesn’t live us, but that we live life. But it is also certain that we need silence from time to time and, above all, we need to value the mark time leaves, because with time comes all the stored-up and inherited wisdom. Youth is not the only, nor the best, moment to value in life.

Jesus, the Wisdom of God, extends beyond knowledge and information. He invites our lives and not only our minds; our emotions and affections, and not only our rationality; our body and not only the soul, to be saturated with his perfume and his gifts.

Women, in Christ, continue to have the relational capacity of dialoguing with God. And already today this capacity continues being one of the gifts of women.

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