Read Mark 14:3-9:
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
In this week’s text, Jesus says “the poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.” This verse is sometimes misused to position worship (the anointing of Jesus in this story) over and above serving the poor; or it’s sometimes used to demonstrate the futility of trying to eradicate poverty. Both of these approaches miss the heart of this story.
First, when Jesus invokes the phrase “the poor you will always have with you,” he’s most likely referring to Deuteronomy 15:11:
“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”
This hardly evokes a sense of futility toward poverty – quite the opposite. God calls us to be openhanded toward our neighbor who is in need.
Second, Jesus didn’t bring the poor into the conversation, “those present,” (the people who did not care for this unnamed woman’s act of worship) brought them into the conversation – but only for the sake of shaming the unnamed woman and calling into question her act of worship. They’re using service to the poor for their own questionable purposes.
Jesus affirms the serving of the poor by invoking Deuteronomy, but he also validates the unnamed woman’s worship because she has the eyes to see and recognize Jesus in the present moment. Worship and service to the poor are not in opposition. One doesn’t have to lose for the other to win. Worship and service to the poor form a virtuous circle – a circle that continually cycles back and forth from one side to the other until we can’t tell where worship ends and service to the poor begins. Ultimately, we learn to anoint Jesus in the poor we serve while simultaneously serving and affirming those who worship differently from us.
Questions for Reflection:
- In what ways do I miss opportunities to serve the poor because the problem seems “too big”?
- In what ways do I criticize the worship practices of others when I don’t understand or agree with them (“why this waste of perfume”)?
- How am I working toward the fusion of worship and service to the poor?
Questions or discussion? Click here to comment.
Tomorrow on the Daily Connection: Who Is My Neighbor?
About the Author
Isaac Gaff is the Managing Director of Worship and Creative Arts at Calvary UMC