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Mark 14:3-9; Matthew 26:6-13; & John 12:1-8

10.25.2010

Staying with what seems to be an economic theme lately, Jesus makes a remark in all three versions of the anointing story that I’ve always found interesting.  He says, in response to the objection that the anointing oil could have been sold to benefit the poor, ‘The poor will always be with you.’  Reactions:

  • At first glance, it seems to be a surprisingly blasé attitude towards what we’ve more recently termed ‘social justice.’  This is particularly true considering Jesus’ other teachings on feeding and clothing the poor and caring for the ‘least of these.’
  • On a macro level, this statement appears to provide doctrinal basis for the pragmatic view put forward by Augustine: that we should not be overzealous in pursuing equality and social justice and the absence of suffering this side of Heaven because it is a fool’s errand. 
  • However, the context of this specific statement is clarified in John’s version because he notes that it was Judas who objected, Judas who was a thief and who controlled the group’s money.  So the question is not genuine; Judas merely objects to missing out on the opportunity to oversee that much money.
  • The second half of Jesus’ statement also gives some added interpretive weight to the verse.  He emphasizes that, unlike the poor, ‘you will not always have [Him].’  So He’s not saying that it’s not worth it to care for the poor, but He is again reminding us to prioritize our relationship with Him over the acts of service that spring from that relationship.

So where does this leave us?  Of course we are to serve the poor and the ‘least of these’ through the love and strength we receive from Christ.  But I think this should be an errand of ministry to the recipients as people, not a large-scale effort to eradicate poverty in the abstract.  While it’s not the focus of the story by any means, there is truth in Jesus’ statement that the poor will always be with us, that suffering will always be with us. 

So we give our money and our time and our labor to local and international charities not because it fits our ideology or because it contributes to a better society or because there’s any hope of ‘solving’ the issue.  Even if no single person’s poverty is ended by our service, it will still have been worth it because the focus of ministry is love, not results.

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From → [admin], [politics]

4 Comments
  1. Christen permalink

    Even if no single person’s poverty is ended by our service, it will still have been worth it because the focus of ministry is love, not results.

    That is a pretty profound line in my book. I know I’m often motivated by seeing results so it’s a good reminder that our motivation and focus should be love. So often we say, can I really make a difference as just one person? It’s hard to do something when we don’t see the results we expect, but ultimately if we’re loving as Christ loved, what the earth views as “success” isn’t the measuring stick. I think this is a case where it’s not the destination, but the journey that’s important.

    • I was hesitant to include that line, because it might be overstepping it. I dont’ mean to imply that we should not care about alleviating a given person’s plight. I just mean that the ultimate priority is love. It’s a means/ends thing. We serve the least of these as a means of sharing Christ’s love; we don’t love them as a means of improving their conditions.

  2. Sharon Eberhardt permalink

    So, speaking ideally, what is your view regarding the current social welfare system which removes the person-to-person act of giving? Removes the heart from giving. Is it an errand of ministry when the least of these are provided for via mandatory taxes. Also, what is justice between and among men if not social justice?

    • I certainly don’t claim that mandated social welfare is bad or unbiblical (at least not within scope of this post). I do claim that there is a difference between contributing as a society to serve the faceless ‘least of these’ due to a general concern for public welfare and ministering (however in/effectively) out of love for the receiving person. So while I won’t say (again, in the scope of this point) that such broad welfare programs are bad, I don’t believe that they are a substitute for or a kind of Christian ministry.

      Social justice, as I understand it, deals with classes of people: poor, women, children, minorities, etc. The end is ensuring justice between groups in an economic/political sense within a political unit. Contrast this to criminal justice or civil justice, which is more legal in nature.

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