You always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me
Matthew 25:31-26:13 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
26 When Jesus had finished all these words, He said to His disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be handed over for crucifixion.”
3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people were gathered together in the court of the high priest, named Caiaphas; 4 and they plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth and kill Him. 5 But they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise a riot might occur among the people.”
6 Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table. 8 But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, “Why this waste? 9 For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. 11 For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me. 12 For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. 13 Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”
Today’s text, Jesus words about the judgment of nations, is one of many passages of scripture which scholars will debate. Some will say that the judgment which Jesus speaks of is not a judgment of individual’s deeds, but rather of collective nations for the way they responded to Jesus. They will have arguments based in exegesis, hermeneutics and interpretation of the original language. Surely theologians and Biblical scholars are more qualified to analyze and interpret scripture than I am. Yet, I sometimes wonder if the reason some people have interpreted scriptures in certain ways is based in part in a desire to shelter themselves from the simple truth of the word. Most of us will tend to have portions of scripture we lean heavily on, holding fast to their truth. We all want to claim the promises of God, even ones which were for others. Yet, when it comes to His commandments and the harder truths, we might look for loop holes and exclusions regarding the things which speak into areas we are personally challenged. We are quick to pass those things to others for whom they were intended. We tend to think and say surely Jesus couldn’t have really meant that, when He speaks of an area in which we still struggle. Again, I would not debate Biblical scholars regarding the deeper interpretation of scripture, but in today’s text I do have a few things which make me question the idea that this speaks on of a judgment of political entities and not the actions and attitudes of individuals. First the word translated nations is the Greek word ethnos, which speaks more of tribes and races than of political entities. So the nations that are gathered are people from every ethnic background, regardless of the country of their origin or their political affiliation.
While it is possible there may be a deeper interpretation for this passage than the simple literal meaning, there is one thing we should always remember when reading scripture. While it is good and beneficial to use scholarly methods of interpretation, in John 14:26 Jesus says: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” In John 16:8 Jesus says: “When He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” There may indeed be deeper meanings to this and other scriptures. We as believers are no longer under judgment for our sins, but rather we have been forgiven, once and for all, through the cross. Still if upon reading Jesus words: “ I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me,’” we are convicted regarding our own actions, should we dismiss it as not meant for us, or should we instead allow the Holy Spirit to teach us and guide us. 2 Timothy 3:16 says: All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness. Even scripture which may be interpreted so as not to be directly applicable to us, is profitable to us if we remain teachable to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Today’s text ends with the account of the woman who was criticized for wasting perfume by pouring it over Jesus. Again there have been many teachings and many interpretations regarding this passage of scripture. Jesus says: “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me. For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.” In the first part of today’s text Jesus teaches that how we treat others who are less fortunate is a direct reflection of how we treat Him. In this case, He is not being cold or uncompassionate in saying that there will always be poor people. That is reality and simple truth. There will always be people who are poor and less fortunate and as Jesus teaches, we should respond to them with love and compassion. What we need to understand is that what Jesus is teaching in this last portion of today’s text is that our priority, the most important thing we can and should do, even beyond serving others, is to love and worship Him. In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus says: “‘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.” Even the love and compassion we have for and show to others, comes only from first and foremost loving God. When we love and worship Him with all our heart, soul and mind, we see others as He wants us to. We then can love them as we are loved.
Jesus says: “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Thank You heavenly Father for preparing a place for me in Your kingdom through the finished work of the cross. May I always remain teachable, that Your word and Your Spirit would guide me to first and foremost love and worship You; then to see and treat others as You would have me treat them. Amen.