Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial.
You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:7-8)
Read: Jeremiah 32:1 – 33:26, Ezekiel 26:1-14
Relate: You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me. It was in a podcast conversation about this verse that I was first introduced to a guy named Shane Claiborne. More than once people have taken this verse as an excuse to neglect the poor while dumping all kinds of money into church buildings and programs and then calling that “worship”. While at college Shane and some of his friends started asking themselves, do we really have the poor among us? How often do we truly interact with the poor? When was the last time we had a genuine conversation with a homeless man? There are hundreds of thousands of people living on a starvation diet, meaning they cannot afford even enough food to meet their daily needs. They are slowly starving to death. How many of them do I know by name?
The truth is, we have insulated ourselves from the poor. They aren’t found in our churches. They are rarely seen on our streets and when they are, we do our best to walk right on by. I’m actually guilty of this myself. I had my headphones on when a man passing me on the street asked me for some spare change. I pretended not to hear him through the music as I stared straight ahead and kept on walking by. There is no excuse. I simply did not want to be bothered to help and so my mind reasoned that he probably wanted the money for cigarettes or some such vice.
React: All too often we do not realize how much of what Jesus said is saturated in the Old Testament. His statement to an indignant Judas actually harks back to something found in Deuteronomy: “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be open handed and freely lend them whatever they need. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people among you. Therefore I command you to be open handed toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 10-11)
It is not an either/or situation. There will always be opportunities to meet the needs of the poor and Jesus commanded us over and over again to do all that we can to see to their needs. Generosity should be a continual and consistent habit for us and it is the practise of this regular habit that justifies the occasional extravagance in worship.
I do not need to pray, God open my eyes to the needs all around me. I see them all the time. Instead, I am asking You, God, to give me the courage and the compassion to give generously to those needs. I have insulated myself from the poor and for this sin, please forgive me. Help me to care. Help me to invest my time into getting to know them so that Your generosity flowing through me would not be an act of charity but rather a gift given in friendship. Help me put faces to the statistics. Help me to put names to the numbers. Help me to intentionally live in community with the poor, destitute, and marginalized.