“You always have the poor with you. You don’t always have me.” (John 12:8)
“Six days before Passover, Jesus entered Bethany where Lazarus, so recently raised from the dead, was living. Lazarus and his sisters invited Jesus to dinner at their home. Martha served. Lazarus was one of those sitting at the table with them. Mary came in with a jar of very expensive aromatic oils, anointed and massaged Jesus’ feet, and then wiped them with her hair. The fragrance of the oils filled the house. Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, even then getting ready to betray him, said, “Why wasn’t this oil sold and the money given to the poor? It would have easily brought three hundred silver pieces.” He said this not because he cared two cents about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of their common funds, but also embezzled them. Jesus said, “Let her alone. She’s anticipating and honoring the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you. You don’t always have me.” (John 12:1-8, MSG)
There have been several places throughout the United States in the past year that have claimed to eradicate homelessness, and that’s a worthy goal. I applaud and support that goal, but then homeless people show up and it messes with the success story. They just pop up. They just come out of the cracks it seems like. The existence of economically disadvantaged, poorly housed and homeless people will always be with us. Perhaps we can end homelessness in our area, and that is what many of us are working towards, in our different methods and ways, but Jesus says “the poor will always be with us”.
In the context of out gospel passage this morning, Judas Iscariot, did not care about the poor. He was greedy and his thoughts were about how much money he could get his hands on if he had the money in his bag instead of the expensive aromatic oils used by Mary to anoint and massage Jesus feet. This scene is a touching picture of Mary giving of herself to Jesus in a loving and creative way, a dramatic masterpiece that filled the house with beautiful aroma.
I have heard this passage used in selfish ways, out of context. There was a church I was familiar with, and they budgeted @ 500K for a new organ. The problem I had with this wasn’t so much about the expense of the organ as it was I could not recognize any form of outreach the church was involved in, and the passage used to justify the new organ was “the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.
I appreciate paintings, murals, beautiful music, beautiful artwork, magnificent architecture, the creativity of the human soul. I appreciate the creativity of the human soul, and the ambience of beautiful cathedrals, church buildings and other places of worship that are intended for use by rich and poor alike, a place to be shared (and, I know this is not always the case) by all to experience and sense the presence of God and the freedom to worship. The buildings are holy only because the people meet and worship there, and God meets them there. When we worship in Wells Park, the ground is holy, only because we worship there and God honors us there with his presence. “And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there”. (Matthew 18:20)
I appreciate this passage in context, but I am also reminiscent of so many other passages that instruct us to care for the poor, the needy, the homeless, the hungry and thirsty, the sick and those in prison. In fact, Jesus tells us that if we care for them, we are caring for Him, and if we do not care for others in need, we are not caring for Jesus. It is our mission to share and care for one another. To shirk that responsibility and to put it all on someone else’s shoulder is just not right. We all are expected to do our part. (Matthew 25)
Judgment starts at the house of God. How can we make correct assumptions on wrong and right in the world, if we cannot correct our own attitudes in the church? What rights do we have to try to convince those outside of the church? The writers of the New Testament are pretty clear about this Paul says tells us in his writing that transformative change begins within each of us and works its way out into the way in which we live our lives, and care for one another. (Romans 12:1-2) It’s an inside job by the Spirit.
I support programs to end homelessness. But, I think we have to be realistic, that the poor will always be with you. I don’t really comprehend the judgment of God, but that’s not really my responsibility, it’s way above my paygrade. It’s God’s responsibility, and I think we are told that in scripture. How people are judged is Gods business. But, there is a judgment, and judgment starts in the house of God. (1 Peter 4:17)
In this season of Lent, let us take inventory of how we treat one another. Are we assisting each other in caring for one another? It’s one thing for each of us to care, but when we team up it’s even more effective. I love that proverb that says two cords are better than one, and a third makes the cord even stronger”. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12) We promote teams to work together in our ministries here at St. Alban’s. We also promote team-work building with other congregations and within our diocese of Episcopal Churches. I encourage every person in this church to be involved in some form of ministry. If you would like to talk about where you think you would be most effective, by all means, please talk to me or any of the other leaders and vestry members of the church.
I love art, music, beautiful iconography, the testimony of the creative Spirit that God gives to all of us, but let us also remember to care for the poor. “They will always be with us”.
You always have the poor with you. You don’t always have me.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen