We hear it all the time. “You Christians should be more concerned about the poor.” And, to be sure, no one who reads the Bible in any serious way can deny that God looks with certain love on the poor and weak. In fact, the scripture is clear that how we treat the poor is a direct reflection of how much we love God. Ignore the poor, and don’t be surprised when God ignores you.
But there is no way to truly love the poor unless you value someone more than the poor. This is an inescapable truth: I will never love the poor and needy as I should unless I love Someone else more than the poor.
Look at our lesson today in Mark 14:3-9:
At that time, while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. But there were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment thus wasted? For this ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and given to the poor.” And they reproached her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burying. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
This powerful scene from the life of Jesus is both famous and deeply misunderstood all too often. But it does give us an opportunity to see this powerful act of love and worship by this lady reveal deep seated spiritual illness in the hearts of those who miss the point.
First, notice where Jesus is. He’s in the house of Simon, the leper. A leper is someone who is a cast out of society. More than likely, this Simon the leper was healed by Jesus and the Lord knew He was always welcome in Simon’s house. Unless the one struck by this horrible disease was already wealthy, Simon was probably very familiar with the poverty of chronic illness. So, Jesus is in the house of man very familiar with suffering and poverty.
Next, a lady comes in and pours a very expensive ointment on the head of Jesus, likely filling this house with the beautiful aroma of this “costly nard.” We don’t know of any dialogue that occurs between her and the Lord. But we do know her act of worship and gratitude was the immediate cause of the uncovering of some people’s hearts . She is likely filled with wordless thanksgiving to Jesus for His lovingkindness and His very presence draws out of this woman’s heart the drive to do something to show her gratitude to this Man.
But look at the reaction of some. They immediately become indignant and assume this ointment has been “wasted.” What a telling word – “wasted.” They are assaulted by the smell of the nard. They are embarrassed by a woman’s emotional display. They are desperate for a justification for their discomfort in the face of such loving adoration. So, they complain that this should have been given to the poor instead of “wasted.”
Jesus confronts the true spiritual poverty of these persons by rebuking them and telling them to leave the woman alone. They aren’t concerned for the poor. We always have the poor among us and we can help them at any time we choose. But here, the Theanthropos, the God-Man, is in their midst, and He is about to embark on His most treacherous journey to the Cross for our sakes, and only this woman cares enough to begin the burial preparations. Because, you see, dear ones, we cannot ever care for the poor as we should until we first humbly adore His Who made us for Himself. Only that humility will give us the enduring grace to serve all of those around us!
Today, are you embarrassed when others are generous? Where do you think that comes from? Why not begin to confront the reality that generosity is central to being like Jesus Christ and dare to be Orthodox on Purpose!