In preparing for my ministry at Cedarcroft Bible Chapel (their website is here) in New Jersey, I will be speaking on Sunday, September 30th, on the topic “The Poor You Have With You Always.” On the following Sunday, October 7th, I’ll be speaking on the issue of our using our spiritual gifts to serve in the local church.
There has been a rift between Evangelical Christians and liberal Christians on the issue of the poor. For liberals, some believe caring for the poor is the gospel. For Evangelicals, some focus on preaching the gospel and, only occasionally, look for ways to help the poor.
I’m intrigued by the event recorded in Matthew 26, Mark 14, and John 12 when Jesus is anointed by Mary and her action is rebuked by Judas and the other disciples with the words “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” Jesus’ response (we’re looking at John’s account) was to rebuke Judas and to say, “You will always have the poor among you.” Some have interpreted those words as an excuse not to help the poor, but they need to read the rest of Jesus’ statement. He continues, “. . . but you will not always have me.” (Jn. 12:8).
The worship of Jesus and the care of the poor are not mutually exclusive categories, are they? Although on this occasion they appear to be. Mary’s expensive perfume (which she might have saved up for over a long period of time) could only be used once. And she chose to pour it out on the feet of Jesus. She had to make a choice. And, it appears, for her that choice was easy. Jesus deserved her extravagant and overflowing worship.
Jesus or the poor? That seems to be the question raised by Judas (and the other disciples, Mt. 26:8 and Mk. 14:4). And the choice was not value-free. In other words, Judas castigates her for her “waste” (the term “waste” is used in the Matthew and Mark accounts). Judas might not have used that term, but that was his perspective. This unnecessary, over-the-top adoration of Jesus was a poor use of something so valuable!
Of course, to de-value her act of worship was to de-value Jesus! In this situation, with Jesus physically present, she did not consider choice “B.” She went with her love and she poured out her heart and it was right that she did. (to be continued)
[I just had an article published on Patheos on the theodicy of Jesus. Click here to view.]