The poor are always with us. Throughout Jesus’ ministry. Today. The poor are always among us.
If I suggest to someone that we can do more for the poor, you know what I’d hear.
“Jesus said, ‘the poor will always be with you.’”
Some may go so far as to say, “they just need to get a job.” That’s easy to say, though, isn’t it. But is faith about doing the easy thing? I ask you. Is faith about doing the easy thing? Lent asks us, “is faith about doing what’s easy?” How many of us have a personal relationship with poverty?
My dad was familiar with poverty. Growing up in a single-parent home during the Great Depression meant Grandma would occasionally ask Dad to walk the streets of Fort Morgan, Colorado, in the dead of winter with shoes that had cardboard-covered holes in the soles to see if he could find coal that had fallen off coal trucks, so Dad’s family could heat their home.
Years after those meager Great Depression years, there was a day Dad told me: “Jesus said ‘you will always have the poor with you.’”
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus recited those words after Mary – in her poverty – anointed Jesus’ feet with costly, aromatic nard, and wiped his feet with her hair. In Mary’s poverty, her actions were birthed from love. It is type of love we are to have for our neighbor and ourselves because every single one of us is poor in some way. Poverty isn’t just expressed in the absence of wealth, although that was certainly a focal point of Jesus’ ministry. Poverty can be in how we relate to people. Poverty can be expressed in the way some people hoard wealth. Poverty can be a condition of our spirits. Understanding that made it possible for me to better understand Jesus. Understanding that also meant Jesus saw me in my poverty and in my vulnerability. The same is true for any of us.
When Jesus spoke those words, those around him knew what he was saying; they were not to be taken out of context. The words would have reminded Jesus’ listeners of the words they heard in Sabbath school from Deuteronomy 15:11: “There are always going to be poor and needy among you. So, be generous. Give to neighbors in trouble. Give because they’re hurting.”
Seeing that the poor will always exist is not an excuse to do ignore them, neglect them, or tell them to get jobs.
Jesus’ words are important because they’re about human dignity. When people value one another’s dignity, people exhibit greater respect, greater compassion, deeper love, and more enriching grace because they are drawn closer to God and God’s image as it is expressed within another, which connects people to God’s image within themselves.
The poor are with us always. Fortunately, Jesus is, too.
Rev. Mark Crist
Holdredge First UMC
Prayer for Reflection
Gracious and loving God, we thank you that you love all of us even though it is not uncommon for your us, as your children, to take things out of context. Forgive us when we do that because through your forgiving grace, you transform our very lives so we understand how very much we are all in this together. Anytime people’s privilege gets in the way of helping the neediest among us, may the privileged be loved, as well, so their hearts are softened where your love is let in. In Jesus’ holy name. Amen.
John 12:1-8Six 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.”
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