John 12:1-11: The Poor You Will Always Have with You
November 18, 2021
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
What a sweet and beautiful reunion meal this must have been. Jesus is with his friends, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. And there is Lazarus reclining at the table with them, back from the dead, good as new.
Mary then took a pound of pure nard, a very expensive ointment, and anointed the feet of Jesus with the perfume and used her own hair to wipe his feet. The action was a statement of personal devotion to Jesus, as well as an indication of the coming burial of Jesus and being prepared for that moment. It was a beautiful deed. A special moment. A place filled now with the sweet aroma of spiritual worship and adoration.
But not for Judas. He immediately thinks of the cost. John tells us that his concern over the expense was not because he was worried about the poor, but because he was a thief. Oftentimes people will object to expensive deeds done in the name of Jesus and for the advance of his kingdom not because they have any real spiritual alternative, but because they love money and want to hold onto the money. We should, instead, be lavish with our praise, exuberant with our devotion, priceless in our commitment.
Jesus then protects Mary from Judas’ attacks: “leave her alone.” Part of leadership is protecting people from the unfair criticism of false and hypocritical religious figures. If someone is following Christ exuberantly, they will be criticized for their devotion. We are to look after each other, care for each, and part of a leader’s role is to protect and guard the sheep.
Mary’s action is not wrong, but right. Certainly, it was expensive. If Judas’ estimate of the cost is accurate, then the amount that was used for this deed of devotion was equivalent to a year’s wages. We are talking about tens of thousands of dollars. But though this was an expensive act, it was not an inappropriate act. Why? “The poor you will always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
This text has been used to dismiss care for the poor. That is wrong. The Bible encourages us—through the story of the Good Samaritan and elsewhere—to express our love for our neighbors in practical deeds of compassion.
But on the other hand, this text does express a clear priority. The truth is that while we should aim to alleviate poverty, in this world we will never be able to eliminate poverty: The poor you will always have with you. Instead, our primary goal is to exalt Christ by making disciples of Christ. In our passion for removing temporary suffering, we should not cease to prioritize a passion to redeem people from eternal suffering. Christ and witness to Christ is first.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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