Thursday, 14 March 2013

Ubiquitous poor

Mary Anoints Jesus
St John Chapter 12
Six 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.”

This is one of my favourite Gospel stories. I love the image created and can even smell the nard used! But, apart from the wonderful, sensuous act of love, there is also the question of the ever present poor. Surely, Jesus was not suggesting that it was acceptable, when faced with a choice, that the needs of the poor can be abandoned when there are other, more pressing, issues?
There has been much comment around the church, recently that, while we get all het up about interpretation of Scripture and same sex issues, still there are wars, still folk go hungry or are without clean water or shelter.... And all our tying ourselves in knots does not change a thing in the world we are called to serve or make any difference to the suffering of God's children. We invest our energies in the wrong battles.
Jesus is not condoning or encouraging our divorce from reality in which we often indulge. Rather, by reminding us of how the poor are always with us Jesus draws our attention back to the fact that we do not have a choice - it is not an either/or, but a both/and. Have the discussions, dispute the priorities but just make sure that the poor are fed. They will always be with us, presenting us with the challenge to constantly be mindful of their needs and, in that mindfulness, change how we act. And in it all, discover the capacity to be not only generous but extravagant in serving Christ.

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