John 12:1–8 (NRSV)
Chapter 12Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. Verse 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Verse 3Mary 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. Verse 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, Verse 5"Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" Verse 6(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.) Verse 7Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. Verse 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."
Living in downtown Minneapolis, not a day goes by in which I don’t look out my window and see at least one person who is unhoused. Experiencing firsthand the enormity of the issue, it’s easy to feel defeated and wonder if this is a community problem that will ever be solved. Is this what Jesus meant when he said, “You always have the poor with you”?
I don’t believe that Jesus was inviting us to turn a blind eye to our neighbors in need. Throughout the gospels Jesus goes out of his way to advocate for the poor, the sick, and the neglected. Instead of putting himself ahead of the poor, I think Jesus is reminding us that there is space for a variety of different expressions of generosity. Whenever we lock ourselves into just one way of following God’s call, we may succeed in following the rules but miss participating in the story of the new opportunities into which God is calling us.
Infinite God, we cannot wrap our finite minds around your extravagant love and grace. Teach us to live generously, following your Spirit’s leading to join your mission in the world. Amen.