As we approach Thanksgiving, I’ve been hearing much talk about people and churches organizing a means to feed the poor, because nobody should have to starve on Thanksgiving. But why only on Thanksgiving? Aren’t the poor hungry during the other 364 days of the year?
In Mark 14:1-11, we read of a similar event where helping the poor would make more impact then than any other time: Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and Mark 14:1-11 says that the Chief Priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.”
While Jesus was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
To understand the first part, I decided to look at the notes in my Archaeological NIV Bible. It says that “lambs used in the Passover were killed on the 14th day of Nisan (March-April) and eaten the same evening between sundown and midnight. Since the Jewish day began at sundown, the Passover feast took place on Nisan 15th. Also, the Feast of Unleavened Bread followed the Passover and lasted 7 days.” OK, so the festival celebration consisted of both, the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Both Passover and the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread brought in Jews from all over, often bringing the population in Jerusalem to 50,000 to several hundreds of thousands of people. This was why the Chief Priests and Scribes were afraid of riots.
So while Jesus was in Bethany, reclining at the table, a woman came up to him and dumped a ton of nard over his head. Originally, one might think, “well that was rude!” But there was more to this, and I think it’s a good example of another incident where Jesus’ disciples didn’t get it. Not only did they not realize what the woman was doing, but why she was doing it. Jesus explained it to them later, but the questions to raise are, didn’t they recognize Jesus as worthy? Had they not fully grasped Jesus’ identity and His mission?
The perfume valued at a year’s wage. Today, that would add up to tens of thousands, depending on your career. So first, can you imagine perfume that costs tens of thousands of dollars? (You must really smell bad if you need perfume that expensive). Unless she was rich, it would have taken a long time, at least a year, to save up for. The scripture doesn’t directly say it, but tradition tells us that she was not rich, so she had to have been saving up for this moment a long time (or maybe she was saving up for something else and God told her to use the money to buy the perfume and do this with it?). Either way, I’m sure she knew of other things that she could have done with it, so there was no need for the men to rebuke her “harshly”. She just understood that this purpose was more important.
In verse 7, Jesus mentioned, “You will always have the poor with you, and you can help them anytime you want.”
Those are harsh words when you think about it:
- You can help the poor at anytime.
- You don’t need to be rich or have a wad of bills in your pocket.’
- You don’t have to help them all at once, either. You can help them individually as the need arises:
- Pay for a heater and/or their heating bill
- Buy some groceries for them.
- Help them with their rent one month
- Visit and talk with them, letting them know they have worth
- Help with medical issues/bills
- Donate clothes to them (hand-me-downs)
- Pray for and with them
- Help at food banks
- Help at homeless ministries
…and so much more.
Basically, ‘If you’re so concerned about helping the poor, then do it…help the poor. You don’t need her help or her money. But that’s just it. You’re not that concerned about the poor, are you?’ (Again, Jesus teaching on compassion)
Here’s the thing with that, too. Remember, this was the time of the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread. It was a Jewish custom to give gifts to the poor on the evening of Passover. So not only was Jesus rebuking them of their lack of compassion towards the poor and their misunderstanding of the significance of the woman’s actions (especially since another Jewish custom was to anoint a dead body with aromatic oils in preparation for burial), but now also, back to the whole tradition thing: It’s tradition/customary to give gifts to the poor on the Passover’s Eve. But why not on other days? It’s nice to help the poor during holidays, but the poor always need help, not just on special days. Also, if they had been helping the poor up until now in the way they’re saying the woman should have done, then it’s possible that their need for help would not be so great (?).
It’s nice when churches and organizations hold charitable events on holidays, like:
- Toys for Tots
- Food Pantry (donation campaigns often arise during the holidays)
- Holiday Feasts
- Holiday clothes drives
- Operation Christmas Child
- Giving Trees
But why stop at the holidays? Why not hold these year-round? Is it because people prefer 1-time or annual givings (they’d get burnt out if more often)? Is it because people don’t make enough? Honestly, I continue to argue this whole economy thing. We continue to hear about how it’s so low and nobody can afford anything they need, etc. But yet, when Christmas comes around, many of these same people are standing in line outside Best Buy, Wal-Mart, malls, spending a few paychecks-worth of money for gifts to friends and family. Money shortage? Bad economy? Really? How is this not similar to what Jesus is rebuking His disciples about?
‘You’re so concerned about giving money to the poor that you rebuke her…if you’re so concerned about the poor, then what are you doing here with us? Why aren’t you out there helping them now? Or, why aren’t there any of those poor people here with us now?’
It feels more special when you give on holidays or traditionally, doesn’t it? For example, while serving as Youth Pastor at a church in Kentucky, I was away from family and friends. One family always made it a point to invite me to their home during the holidays. Yet, they wouldn’t have anything to do with me during the rest of the year. Their reason for inviting me during the holidays was, “Nobody should be alone on Easter (or Christmas).” Yet, they opposed me and my ministry during the rest of the year.
‘The poor will always be here, but I won’t. If you had been listening to what I’d said (in 10:32-34), then you would understand, if not also be doing as she’s doing to me.’