“You always have the poor with you”

A Lenten Meditation on John 12.1-8.

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Jesus returns to Bethany for a dinner party with dearest and exceedingly grateful friends. Earlier, Martha and Mary had summoned Jesus to come to the aid of their sick brother, Lazarus. Devastated by his death, perhaps disappointed with Jesus in his delay, once he arrived, they were dumbfounded with joy when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.[1]

During dinner, Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. With scandalous impropriety, she unbinds her hair and, in slavish service, wipes his feet.

Judas Iscariot, professing concern for the poor, judges Mary and her foolish waste. Jesus, knowing the inescapable end of his ministry, acknowledges Mary’s anointing as a prophetic witness of his coming death. “Leave her alone,” he declares, honoring Mary and her loving lowliness as reflective of his self-sacrificial life.

Jesus calls his followers into similar service. Service that rarely is of massive proportion in public deeds affecting myriad folk. Therefore, from a worldly numbers-oriented perspective, service that can seem wasteful of time, attention, and energy.

The service of Jesus mostly is meted out in daily, small deeds of love and justice. A kind word for a broken heart. A sympathetic ear for a puzzled mind. A tender touch for a discouraged soul. A warm embrace for a despondent spirit.

Additionally, principally, the service of Jesus always involves care for the poor.

It’s easy, perhaps, unavoidable to consider Jesus’ comment, “You always have the poor with you”, as a mere statement of fact. Throughout history, there always have been, are, and will be poor people.

Nevertheless, I hear and see Jesus’ word in the light of his ministry. His proclamation in speech and action of the love and justice, the benevolence and equality of the kingdom of God – where and when the first of this world will be last and the last, first

Therefore, “You always have the poor with you,” is an implicit commandment. As Mary anoints him for burial, Jesus leaves his ministry of care for the poor to his followers. A ministry that involves, yes, seeking to satisfy physical need, yet also challenging worldly powers and principalities, systems and institutions that live to keep poor people poor.

In America, where nearly 40 million people are poor, among them, nearly 12 million children and nearly 4 million senior citizens,[2] there is more than enough ministry to do.

© 2022 PRA

#ministrywiththepoor #thepooralwayswillbewithyou #theserviceofJesus


[1] See John 11.1-44

[2] https://poverty.ucdavis.edu/faq/what-current-poverty-rate-united-states and http://www.thebalance.com/us-poverty-rate-by-state-4585001

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