Today in our Holy Week Sermonette, we turn to John 12. Where Jesus says something that we idiots turn into one of the stupidest things I have ever heard. Let’s open our hymnals:
Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”
“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” John 12:3-8 (edited)
First, I want to recognize that even though the gospel of John says that Judas doesn’t care about the poor only money, I will also say this. Judas was the treasurer of the group. He was responsible for feeding and clothing all these followers. He was the one who had to make sure they had enough.
I’m going to speculate something. I don’t know that Judas was the devil we make him out to be. Here we have a story of Judas concerned about finances, the next thing that happens is he betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Maybe, MAYBE he wouldn’t have had to do that… MAYBE they really needed the money. I mean how was he supposed to know?
You can feed your people if you just tell me his location… That’s it.
Anyway, Jesus responds by saying, you will always have the poor, but you will only have me for a little while. Someone (Mary) is giving Jesus a gift. A very, VERY generous gift. And he lets her. There’s a lesson in that for all of us.
However, we are dumb and stupid, and we twist Jesus words into saying “there’s nothing we can do about the poor! Jesus said there will always be poor people, it’s just the way it is.”
We take this to heart so much that our “Christian Nation” has responded by making sure there will always be poor…
Not only do we make sure there will always be poor, but we demonize them for being poor.(BTW for scripture buffs, here’s where I want John’s gospel to do commentary for us. “He said this to fulfill the empire’s policies on making sure the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”)
A few years back I lived in the capital of New York when Occupy Wall Street happened. It was exciting, it was amazing, it was finally a conversation about the corrupt system, and banks getting bailouts while their CEO’s got billions in bonuses. It was justice and conversation from ENRON. AND… it was also an opportunity to bash those seeking an honest wage for all people.
“Get a job” was yelled by just about everyone who walked by, in a suit. “Get a job” was yelled over and over by successful, white men. Did they not understand that most of these people could not get a job? Or if they had one, they were the working poor?
I’ve been lucky enough to have a full time job most of my adult life, but both my husband and my current partner have been or are unemployed for long stretches of time. Don’t you think they want a job you idiot? Why do you think they are protesting?
You will always have the poor is Jesus telling Judas that we must spend time with the ones we love while we have the time, before they’re gone. It is NOT a celebration or glorification that we should always have poor, that we should keep some people down, rejoicing in their misfortune because we built the system and got lucky enough to not be one of them.
There will always be poor among us, as long as we let there be.