“You always have the poor with you, you do not always have me.” (John 12:8)
There is inherent conflict in this passage.
The most obvious is between Judas and Mary. Judas believes the extravagance of Mary’s perfume is a waste – the nard could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. Jesus intervenes by accepting her gift of love as she anoints his feet as preparation for his coming burial. The narrator’s comments discredit Judas’ character as a thief.
The message: faithfulness is acknowledging abundance and offering thanksgiving over conniving and scarcity.
A second conflict imbedded in this scene comes between The religious leaders and Jesus. In John 11:1-44, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. This scene is the after party to celebrate this amazing sign of the kingdom and the restored life of Lazarus. In the verses between (John 11:45-54), the religious leaders under the direction of the High Priest Caiaphas, plot to kill Jesus out of their fear and the implications of Jesus’ ministry and message. Caiaphas justifies this plot by saying, ‘it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed’ (John 11:50).
The message: Jesus’ anointing (the title ‘Christ’ means: anointed one) serves as a foretaste not only of Jesus’ coming execution – but also his coning resurrection. In an upheaval of the power we expect – Jesus is revealed as the Christ.
There is also an ongoing conflict uncovered in this passage between the culture, the church, and the poor. Jesus says, ‘you will always have the poor with you, you do not always have me’ (John 12:8). The misinterpretation of this verse out of context by the church has served to neglect its mission in search of worldly power and wealth. By individual Christians this verse has been used to justify corruption and greed. A better translation of this phrase is ‘keep the poor with you as you do not always have me’ (see Dr. Lindsey Trozzo’s refelction on this passage from Working Preacher, online available: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3993 ).
The message: our lives are not about choosing Jesus or the poor, but rather to see Jesus in the needs of our neighbors, recognizing the dignity and humanity in all people. What does that look like – a fragrant, beautiful, abundant gift of gratitude and service in the love Mary shows Jesus here. What if we cared for the least among us like that?
Out of this growing conflict Jesus forges a new way forward – abundance, sacrifice and our common humanity over scarcity, power and dehumanization.
Those powers will seem to take control as his arrest and execution loom with growing tension. But Easter…is coming!
Where do you see abundance, sacrificial love and dignity unfolding around you? Where can you participate?