Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Poor We Always Have

"So Jesus said, 'Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.'" (John 12:7-8)

I don't know if Mary understood that Jesus' death was approaching, or if she anointed his feet with aromatic oil because of her gratitude that He saved her brother Lazarus from the grave. Perhaps she was just trying to say that she loved Him and believed in Him, that He was Who He said He was. Regardless of her motivation (although the many options to consider are very intriguing), Mary took something very expensive (a years wages), and poured it on her beloved friend's feet. Could I ever turn a years wages -- or even a weeks wages! -- into something so quickly vanishing as fragrant oil, and then pour it on Jesus?

Could I ever turn a years wages -- or even a weeks wages! -- into something I gave entirely to Jesus, to declare my belief that He is worthy?

The poor, the homeless, and the hungry are staples of this life. They will always be with us, coexisting under the sun. By contrast, Jesus is very clear in the Gospel of John that our time to believe in Him and follow Him is extremely limited. We have a short bit of time to choose whether we will believe and "see the glory of God" (John 11:40), or ... not. When Jesus says it, He makes it sound so simple. Then we overcomplicate things. Even when He walked the earth, He had to walk His beloved friends through what it really meant to believe Him and walk in the light. I know He will do the same for us now, just differently.

Now that Jesus has ascended into Heaven, while I wait for Him to come take us with Him, He has been clear that if I'd like to be close to Him like Mary was, if I'd be interested in anointing His feet with perfumed oil, then I will anoint the feet of the "least of these," and I will have done it to Him. This is a hard saying for me, as the Gospels might say. It is easy enough to give money, or to maintain a safe level of abstraction through fasting and prayer. What about touching the hungry? What about speaking with the poor? What about those full and rich, whose spirits are still "the least"? I'd like to pass judgment and keep them all at a distance for my own safety, but I can't do that. I want to know Jesus, so I know where to go.

And it just struck me that the least of these are not far away. They are sometimes right around the corner, or at the end of my drive to work, or on the other end of the cell phone telling me how they lost themselves, to my bewilderment. Sometimes it is easier for me to sort of lose touch a little bit. Yuck -- "easier for me"? Jesus, I don't know what to say. I don't know how to show your love to them. I am a proud, blundering mess. While we still have the opportunity to share Your light, teach me how to share it with them. I have it, and they need it. I need courage! I need resourcefulness! Help!

Approaching another Monday, I am keeping in mind what a friend wrote to me this week. ... I am recording it here so that I can remember it.:

"It's easy to become desensitized to a problem as big as hunger. I mean, the numbers are truly overwhelming. And we have so many choices here, from very cheap to very expensive. Sometimes it feels like doing something on a personal level has so little impact, but then you remember the widow and her two mites. It's not about the overall impact of your $5, or your commitment to fasting. It's about honoring (and trusting) God through honoring others over ourselves." -James E. Craig

So whether I eat or drink (or don't), may it all be for the glory of God!

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