Saturday, June 23, 2018

The poor you have always

In the conclusion of discussing Mary anointing his feet (see John 12:1-8), “Then said Jesus, … the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.” (Cf. Matthew 26:11 and Mark 14:7.)

This concludes the exchange between Jesus and Judas. Judas condemned the act of Mary as wasteful and neglecting the poor. Jesus knew the heart of Judas and exposed his pretended concern (he was interested in an opportunity to get at the funds himself). Bob Deffinbaugh uniquely identifies this exchange as “The Sweet Smell of Love and the Stench of Greed!” The facts include: (1) yes, the ointment was expensive and in theory could have been used for the poor, (2) on this occasion Mary displays more spiritual insight than the apostles, [i] and (3) Judas was stealing from the “church of Christ” treasury.

Here are a few take-aways.

We will not eradicate poverty. This fact is not an excuse to ignore poverty and the poor – just a heavy dose of realism we must accept. Helping the poor is a worthy biblical goal, but realism says it will not be eradicated. We should operate in the realistic, not in a fantasy world of our own imaginations. The Lord himself was poor in earthly goods (Luke 9:58; 2 Corinthians 8:9), yet had compassion for the poor and needy (e.g. Matthew 25:44-46;Mark 12:41-44; Luke 6:20; Luke 8:43-48; Luke 14:13).

There is plenty of opportunity to help the poor. The import of Jesus chiding Judas is not that we should not help the poor since poverty cannot be eradicated – but that there will always be opportunities to help the poor. Judas (and all of us) could have helped the poor before Mary’s anointing. Judas (and all of us) can help the poor after Mary’s anointing. This singular, spiritual, and sacrificial act of Mary does not abate our responsibility for and ability to help the poor. Jesus’s death – once for all – does not remove perennial opportunities toward the poor. Deuteronomy 15:11 well makes the point, “For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.”

All who claim to care don’t always care. Those who condemn others for not caring enough, may not care at all themselves! As Judas, the condemnation may be a cover of their own covetousness or other motives unrelated to a true concern for the poor and needy. One can “anoint Jesus” and still have time to care about the poor – regardless of what Judas says. These are not conflicting duties and one must do at the time “what thy hand findeth to do.” (Compare Ecclesiastes 9:10; Mark 14:8; and 2 Corinthians 8:12.)

Often in the United States of America we conceive of a “rich church” helping a “poor society,” but often the true church is the true poor. Thomas Kelly captured this thought in his blessed hymn inspired by Zephaniah 3:12:

“Poor and afflicted,” Lord, are thine,
Among the great unfit to shine;
But though the world may think it strange,
They would not with the world exchange.

“Poor and afflicted”—yes, they are;
They’re not exempt from grief and care;
But he who saved them by his blood,
Makes every sorrow yield them good.

“Poor and afflicted”—’tis their lot;
They know it, and they murmur not;
’Twould ill become them to refuse
The state their Master deigned to choose.

“Poor and afflicted”—yet they sing,
For Jesus is their glorious King;
“Through sufferings perfect,” now he reigns,
And shares in all their griefs and pains.

“Poor and afflicted”—but ere long,
They’ll join the bright, celestial throng;
Their sufferings then will reach a close,
And heaven afford them sweet repose.

And while they walk the thorny way,
They’re often heard to sigh and say—
“Dear Saviour, come; O quickly come!
And take thy mourning pilgrims home.”

[i] Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts show other apostles were caught up in agreement with Judas.

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