During the Passover celebration week, Jesus spent a large part of that time teaching in the Temple and arguing with the religious and political leaders. The time for Jesus to heal and teach concluded and in chapter 14, preparations are being made for Jesus’ final duty of his ministry. In Mark 14: 1-11, the Jerusalem leaders are waiting for an opportunity to kill Jesus. He has said and done the wrong things and opposed the wrong people and they are going to make him pay. The people, however, are strangely faithful to Jesus, so they have to be careful how they go about capturing him. Verse 3 says that Jesus was spending time with his disciples at the house of a guy named Simon. As they are sitting there, along comes this woman with a very expensive bottle of perfume and she pours it on Jesus’ head. Verse 4 tells us the disciples were shocked because this woman had “wasted” something so valuable. The perfume could have been sold and better allocated to help the poor they say. In verse 6-8, Jesus says that there are lots of ways and lots of time to help the poor, but the woman poured this perfume on Jesus in order to prepare him for his burial. This is the final time Jesus will speak of his soon and coming death in Mark’s Gospel. And, because of the lack of commentary, it appears that the disciples still don’t understand that Jesus is going to die. We do see a response to this though. For Judas, this was the straw that breaks the camel’s back. He simply couldn’t stand to see such a misuse of funds and he leaves to make a deal with the chief priests so that Jesus can be captured and killed.
In this story, preparing Jesus for burial was more important that helping the poor so the woman did the right thing. What is remarkable about the story is that the disciples didn’t understand this. That is why they focus on the poor. Just because Jesus says that we will always have the poor, he isn’t allowing a loophole to avoid helping the poor. Quite the contrary. Effectively what Jesus is saying is that all of our resources all of the time are available for the poor, so don’t pick on this woman when she is doing the right thing. The application from this is not “help the poor when you get around to it”, but “help the poor as often as you can”.
In our day, there are a numerous ways to help the poor. There are systemic problems that some people might be able to address. If you are a builder or developer, what efforts are you making to provide affordable housing? If you own a business, are you able to find ways to both increase profits and hire unskilled workers? If you can’t make money, you can’t give it away, but you might be able to find ways to increase your bottom line and hire unskilled workers if you are willing to consider it.
How do you as an individual approach helping those who are poor and destitute? Giving to an organization is certainly one way. Having a principle of how you approach beggars on the street is important. Do you give them money or not? Do you get them food or help, if so how? Even if you are at the bottom of the ladder in your workplace and are simply a worker, there are still ways for you to make a difference. You can contribute to microfinancing projects, volunteer, or donate goods to organizations that help the poor. In your retirement planning and investing, do you have any money in socially conscious investments? What are you doing about human trafficking and how are you contributing to it with the way you live? What does your church do from a missions perspective to help the poor abroad? How can you personally get involved?
The plight of the poor is timeless, systemic, and massive. The overwhelming nature of it often discourages us from getting involved. Also, the thought that so many are “taking advantage of us” often prevents us from helping. I am thankful that Jesus doesn’t look at us that way. While we were sinners, he died for us. This is what this story in Mark’s Gospel is about: Jesus preparing to die for us. Though we daily “take advantage” of his grace and mercy, he still gives it generously and freely. How is his generosity to you, a poor sinner, affecting the way you are extending your influence, resources, knowledge, and ability to others who do not have their own to rely upon? If we aren’t properly applying the Gospel, perhaps we haven’t properly understood it?