“You will always have the poor with you” is a phrase of Jesus often quoted today. It comes from this scene: Just before Passover, an unidentified woman poured a jar of costly anointing oil over Jesus’ head. But some people were mad because the ointment could have been saved for a better occasion or used frugally, or as they argued in Jesus’ presence, it could have been “sold and the money given to the poor.” They were simply living out of their values and principles from the scriptures.
They knew the book of Deuteronomy well, as it was their most important text. It says in Deuteronomy 15:11, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” Let me paraphrase, “our world is broken, and there will always be people among you in need, so you better make generosity with them a lifelong habit!” These were good people doing their best to serve those in need.
But they didn’t yet know Jesus as Messiah. He changes everything. What was his response to their anger? “For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me.” Talk about an understatement! He was only a short time away from his crucifixion, and these were the few remaining hours in his life, if any, when those close to him should pour out their love. He was vulnerable. He needed her love and affirmation, and he affirmed her extravagant gesture.
Ever since Jesus breathed his Spirit into his followers—he has commissioned us to keep serving the poor. We get to serve Jesus directly by serving the poor! He combined the community ethic of serving the poor with the communal act of serving Jesus into one.
So what does that mean for us today? Ever since that time—since Jesus breathed his Spirit into his followers—he has commissioned us to keep serving the poor. But here is the mysterious twist: Because Jesus sent his Spirit to us, he made it possible for everyone to love and serve him directly, just as that unidentified woman did to Jesus. But we get to serve Jesus directly by serving the poor! He combined the community ethic of serving the poor with the communal act of serving Jesus into one: “The King [Jesus] will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ *
Let’s not grow weary in doing good works, for we are serving Jesus as we serve the poor among us.
* From Matthew 25:40 NLT (And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’)
– By Matthew Ayers, Dream Centers Executive Director