For you have the poor always with you…Matthew 26:11, John 12:8
Jesus’ disciples watched in astonishment as Mary, (the sister of Lazarus whom the Lord had raised from the dead –John 12:3), broke an alabaster box filled with expensive oil and anointed Jesus’ feet. She then proceeded to wipe His feet with her hair, filling the house with the scent of the fragrant and costly ointment.
Some of the disciples saw this as a tremendous waste (Mark 14:4,5). The cost of the oil Mary poured out upon the Lord was the equivalent of an entire year’s wages for the average worker. Judas verbalized what they were thinking. “Why wasn’t this fragrant oil sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?” (John 12:4).
We are shown in John’s account that Judas didn’t care for the poor at all. He was covetous and a thief. As the treasurer of the group he would take advantage of his position and dipped his hand into their money bag for his own use.
Jesus rebuked them all.
“Leave her alone,” He said. “She has kept it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me” (John 12:7).
Volumes can be written about Mary’s unique expression of worship, but for now we are going to focus on Jesus’ reference to the poor on this occasion.
Jesus was quoting from Deuteronomy 15:11. –
For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command you, saying, you shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor, and to your needy in your land.
When God, through Moses, was giving His people His standard for their behavior, He told them that if they obeyed Him they would be blessed (Deuteronomy 11:26-27). Yet at the same time we can see that while the obedient would be blessed, there would be those among them that would remain poor.
Why would God bless one group and not the other? Why would it be the will of God for the poor to remain in the land? When we look at all the Scriptures that document God’s care for the poor, and there are hundreds of them, a picture begins to form of their unique purpose in God’s schoolroom of this life.
There is no indication that these ones were poor by any disobedience, as God is turning the attention of those whom He will prosper to the needy and directing them to favor those who have not received as much.
The poor are with us always because as long as there is sin in the world, there will be injustice and poverty for some is the result of that injustice. Self-centeredness even among God’s people can injure the poor in their midst. God has called His people to be lights in this life and reflections of His love for humanity. The prosperity God promises to one group is for the blessing of the other. The command to work in the New Testament illustrates this principle. -
Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needs (Ephesians 4:28).
The Lord tests the righteous (Proverbs 17:3) and the poor are allowed to remain to be our tests. And God shows us in His word that someday there will be a final exam.
Jesus describes what will happen when He returns in Matthew 25:31-46. He will separate His sheep from an assortment of bewildered goats, who never possessed the compassion that is imparted to those who are genuinely saved and know their Lord. We are shown in this illustration, that neglecting “The Least of These” is the cause of the Lord’s rejection of the self-centered goats.
They didn’t understand that they were being tested in this life and their response to the poor that God allowed to remain among them would determine the outcome on graduation day. “When did we see You hungry and didn’t feed You?!” they exclaimed. They never saw that Jesus’ identification with humanity would place His face upon impoverished children and all those who suffer in this life.
The goats in this scenario can be likened to Judas criticizing Mary’s sacrifice, and the rich man in Jesus’ parable, who ignored the pleading beggar Lazarus on his doorstep (Luke 16:19-31).
By contrast, the sheep could see Jesus’ portrait in the beggar on the street and poured out God’s love and compassion on those whom the goats looked upon with disdain. The fragrance of the sacrifice of their offerings of these ones whom God has blessed rose up to His throne as His command to help the poor was obeyed and their reward was an open door into His paradise.
Jesus told them and us, “If you have done it to the least of these You have done it to Me.” As Mary knelt at the feet of Jesus, she was also kneeling at the feet of the beggar Lazarus, the Samaritan wounded by the side of the road (Luke 10:33-37), and all the hungry, poor and naked in this world.
Those like Mary, whose worship is expressed in service to the needy, have passed their test. They will hear their Lord say, “The poor you had with you always, they were there for a reason. I needed to see if you would obey. Well done, My precious ones. You have reflected the selflessness of My sacrifice for you. Enter the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
Copyright 2017 by H.D. Shively
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