Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
With Jesus, it seems sometimes you can’t win. Or, at least, it must have seemed that way to the disciples. Jesus talks about giving to the poor and even advises someone to sell everything they have and donate the proceeds to those in need. But, in this story in John’s Gospel, Jesus chastises Judas for suggesting that they should have done what Jesus had told them several times to do.
Maybe Jesus is offended because of the parenthetical comment about Judas being a thief. But this is likely the writer(s) of John making Jesus’ offense more palatable. What seems more the focus is Jesus’ comment “you always have the poor with you.” I have heard people use this as a reason not to help those in poverty. They misunderstand Jesus to say “There will always be poor people. There’s nothing you can do about it, so don’t bother.” Clearly Jesus isn’t saying this. What I think he’s saying is that you (the disciples, and then those of us who are followers of Jesus after the disciples) should always be in relationships with those living in poverty. We should have the poor with us in that we are neighbors together. Yet, many churches are segregated by wealth and “class.” The poor go to churches for the poor, and those with wealth wouldn’t dream of going there. The coffee is not up to par.
Who do you know by name who is on the opposite end of the wealth spectrum from you? Do you know this person because they work for/serve you? Do you know about their circumstances? Are you able to be in a relationship with them that doesn’t have as its goal making them more like you? If you encounter someone today who seems to be living in poverty, take a moment, look them in the eyes, and smile. Know that each of you is likely poor in some way, and yet you are both abundantly wealthy as you are both children of God.