Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Poor You Will Always Have

12 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound[a] of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii[b] and given to the poor?” 6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it[c] for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” John 12:1-8
I think about this passage a lot. Judas hiding his greed behind care for the poor. The church gets a lot of this today. Men drive around in a Mercedes, they own big houses, drink the finest of wines, and then they begin to question how much on the dollar of their 20 dollar donation is actually going to charity, and how much to administration. Of course, the more money a charity gets, the more they can give to the actual cause and make those percentages go down, but often percentage wise a smaller charity is swamped with bigger operational overhead, even if their employees are making less money. But that is just charity in general. At the same time you hear it in consideration of Church buildings and pastor salaries etc, even when the pastor’s salary isn’t that much more than anyone else’s in the congregation and perhaps considerably less than that of others, regardless of the fact that he still has to live in the same economy as you. But people will wag their finger and say that the church is squandering the money and this is an excuse for people to greedily hang on to what they think is theirs, but was given to them by God.
What difference does it make? Is it less charitable that a church provide a live-able income for it’s pastor? Must he be a “charity case” in order to fulfill his job? Is it evil that rather than just handing money to people on the street, they gave a contractor a job to build a beautiful building for the community to come and hear God’s word in? And then the ultimate irony, is those people donating to the church are the ones donating to the food bank and a myriad of other charities because of the effect of the gospel on their life. If I was going to ask for a hand out I would ask Mary long before I asked Judas. A person could bet dollars to donuts that Mary’s charitable giving far exceeded that of Judas.
Jesus defends the giving of Mary, she has done it out of love. She has prepared Jesus for burial. We will always have the poor. The Christian knows this. They are there and we will always have opportunity to give to them. But Jesus says, you will not always have me. To give to Jesus in this way was a onetime opportunity for Mary, it was a privileged opportunity she took advantage of.
I suppose there is a manner in which this could be said of the church too. The gates of hell will never prevail against it. Luther likens it to a storm cloud that passes from one land to another. It doesn’t always stay in one place. Well that is the gospel. But the gospel goes with the church. Where there is no church there is no gospel, and where the gospel is there is the church. But when the gospel is not appreciated it is forced to move on to where it is appreciated. It is a privileged opportunity to give to it while it is in your midst, so support the work of the gospel in your community. The money given to the poor perishes with the bread that is devoured, but the gospel, the word of God that comes from his mouth, gives eternal life. No, man does not live by bread alone, to care for the giving of God’s word is just as much a joy for the Christian as is the giving of bread. It may be scorned by the community, it will never be popular. It is foolishness to the world, this cross for which Mary has prepared Christ, but for those of us who are being saved it is the power of God, and we need not be ashamed.

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