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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 12:1–8

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.” (NRSV)


This passage contains one of the most challenging statements that Jesus ever made—fitting, I suppose, for this challenging season of Lent. In response to Judas’ criticism that the oil that Mary used to anoint his feet should have been sold and given to the poor, Jesus responds by saying, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” It is not certainly the answer we would expect Jesus to offer, or the one that most of us are comfortable with. I’d imagine Deuteronomy 15:11 better fits our understanding: “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you to open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” A wider look at Jesus’ teachings (Luke 4:16–21, 6:20–21; Matthew 5:42, 19:20, 25:31–46) also shows a clear and consistent assertion that we are to care for the poor. So what is going on here?

There is certainly an aspect of foreshadowing in the anointing of Jesus with oil—his subsequent journey into Jerusalem suddenly becomes a clear trajectory towards his death. But still the gnawing question of Judas remains: “Why was this perfume not sold and the money given to the poor?” The answer, for me at least, is the same reason we gather in church each Sunday rather than going out into the world in service. We cannot give of ourselves constantly without being renewed in spirit, without returning our thanks and praise to the God who made us and cares for us. We are chopping the Golden Rule in half if we love our neighbor as ourselves but do not show love for God as well. This act of Mary does not preclude generosity to others: it is a celebration of generosity itself.


Dear God, help me to live my life generously—for it is from you that all generosity comes. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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