You will always have the poor with you, but...
John 11:55-12:19 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up to Jerusalem out of the country before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 So they were seeking for Jesus, and were saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think; that He will not come to the feast at all?” 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he was to report it, so that they might seize Him.
12 Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. 3 Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” 6 Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. 7 Therefore Jesus said, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. 8 For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.”
9 The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. 10 But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.
12 On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” 14 Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” 16 These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him. 17 So the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify about Him. 18 For this reason also the people went and met Him, because they heard that He had performed this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him.”
In today’s text there is an interesting interchange that happens while Jesus is sharing a meal with some of His disciples. The text says: Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. Therefore Jesus said, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.” If we put aside the reason we are told Judas was critical of Mary’s action and assume that there really was a true concern for the poor, would that change Jesus reaction and His comments? James 1:27 says: Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. It is important, as Christians, that we do care for and provide for the needs of those who are less fortunate. That should be an expression of our faith, a characteristic of our religion. But the truth is our faith is more than a religion. It is more than what we do for others. God desires that we have relationship with Him. When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment in the law, He responded: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Works of kindness, charity and service to others are a vital part of our faith. But what is more vital is that those works flow out of the first and foremost thing, that we love the Lord with all of our heart, soul and mind. Too often we emphasize our service and care for others over our love and worship of God. We do good things not only because it is right, but also to justify ourselves in the sight of others. Ephesians 2:8-9 says: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. We cannot justify ourselves through good works. Jesus went to the cross so that we could be reconciled to God, that we would have relationship with Him. First and foremost we should love and worship God. Only then, as an expression of our relationship with God can we love others, particularly as Jesus says we should, as yourself. We are to love others as we ourselves have been loved by God. 1 John 4:19 says: We love, because He first loved us. Our love for God and our love for others is a result of and a response to the love God demonstrated to us. Romans 5:8 says: But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Our love and our service toward others should have the purpose of revealing the love of God, demonstrated in the cross of Christ. Ephesians 2:10 says: For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. All that we do, all of our works of service and charity are in response to God’s gift to us, His love for us, demonstrated in the cross of Christ.
Perhaps the most frequently quoted passage in all of scripture about the importance of love is 1 Corinthians 13, which ends saying: now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. This passage though is often misrepresented as prioritizing what we do for others, over other expressions of our faith. Indeed the passage does begin: If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. Many will point out that these characteristics of faith and spirituality are meaningless if they are not based in and in response to love. The passage also says: And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Even if we were to give all that we had to feed the poor, it would not be enough. There would still be poor and needy people and if all that giving is not based in love, it profits nothing. Jesus said: “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.” Our love and worship of God is our response to the love demonstrated on the cross. First and foremost we are to love God with all our heart, soul and mind. We are to pour ourselves out to Him as He did for us. Only then as a result of, in response to and as a demonstration of God’s love for us, does our love for others matter.
Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ; precious Holy Spirit may I both know and reflect Your true love demonstrated in Christ. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, in Christ. Amen.