Today we find ourselves back in the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. We’ve been here before when Martha was mad at Mary for not helping serve dinner, when Mary and Martha were grieving the death of Lazarus – and then celebrating his resurrection. These three siblings are very dear to Jesus – there is a great mutual love shared in this house. I think that of all the places that Jesus teaches and all the dinners he attends, THIS is where I would’ve liked to have sat and listened to our Lord interact with his closest friends and disciples. I can picture the scene as intimate and lively, full of love, mutually shared among all these great friends.
It is in his tribe of good friends and disciples that Jesus makes a curious statement, "For you always have the poor with you, but you don't always have me" (v. 8). To my Gen-X ears, this sounds like a callous statement of fact – Jesus knows that in 2016 we have not yet solved the puzzle of poverty – and maybe he doesn’t think we ever will. However, Jesus is referring to the Torah, and the complete verse reads, "For the poor will never cease out of the land: therefore I command you, saying, "You shall surely open your hand to your brother, to your needy, and to your poor, in your land" (Deuteronomy 15:11).
In 2016, we have not solved the puzzle of poverty – so as cynical as it sounds, Jesus is exactly right. We are his body gathered together here this morning and we have not come to a solution, as Christians. Judas may believe the anointing in the story to be the most scandalous part, but I am inclined to think that knowing our children and elders are going to bed hungry is much more scandalous. How do we open our hands to the poor? The Gospel today points us to the worries we still face.
In Wichita Falls, we partnered with a couple of my seminary classmates and their churches to feed the homeless one night a month. ECWF provided food for about 80 people one night a quarter. It was a lot of work: some provided ingredients, some helped serve, some cooked, some donated money, and some did any combination of those things. For a church with an average Sunday attendance of about 25 while I was there, it was quite the undertaking. We served the meal at a church across the street from the homeless shelter – where the people would later spend the night and would have eaten anyway. So why do it? Others might rightly say, like Judas, that we would have been smarter to donate the money to the shelter and let those good people there provide for the needs of the poor and homeless. It’s quite the quandary, right?
Here’s where Mary’s anointing and Jesus’ defense of her comes into all of this for me. There is something valuable – something necessary – something essential – in serving face-to-face. Martha served Jesus dinner, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Mary anoints Jesus on the day before he will be arrested by the Sanhedrin – this is all Incarnational ministry – in the flesh – face-to-face serving each other. Because there is something about looking another of God’s Beloveds in the eye and serving them. Yes, sometimes it might be smarter to serve from a distance, with money or supplies or legislative work or letter writing or whatever. But there is something about standing in front of another of God’s Beloved, realizing that in serving them, you also are being blessed. It’s a mystery, and it is true. We are called as Christians into service that is intimate and messy, as we stand open-handed with the least, the lost and last.
You all are a fairly new Tribe of Christians in Wise County. I live one county over, so I do not know the specifics in Decatur and the surrounding area. All I know is what I have observed in the last 30+ years of driving through here. When I used to drive from Archer City to Denton to visit friends at North Texas State University, Decatur was a place to stop for a Dr. Pepper and stretch my legs, either at the McDonalds, the Dairy Queen, or if I went though town, at the convenience store where I made the turn to get to 380. It has changed now and rightly so. It feels to me now as though Decatur is joining the outer band of suburbs of Ft Worth. When I go on through Decatur from my dad’s place in Joy to my FM 407 Exit, I can see Decatur reaching further and further south toward the metroplex. I wonder who all is being displaced by the demographic shifts here? I wonder who is making out like a bandit by selling land to developers and whose land is being claimed by imminent domain? And we are right back to that quandary that Judas knowingly pointed out: I am sure some are profiting while securing the future of their children and grandchildren, and I am sure some are being displaced from family homesteads. How can this Tribe of Christians known as Episcopalians in Wise County stand up as the body of Christ in the midst of it all? I know I only hear a fraction of the shenanigans in Denton County, but the actions of some of the developers are shocking over there: backing one candidate and getting special rules put into place that are not in the best interest of all – I’m sure some of that happens here too, or will soon. How are you all called to serve the voiceless and the uninformed? Who will interrupt the corruption that sometimes occurs in these transitional times?
As we ponder the puzzle of how best to stand with and serve the poor right here, right now, let us remember Paul’s inspiration this day, “but this one thing I do: …I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Amen.
As always, what is written and what was preached actually varies. The audio version is on the Podbean Player on the right sidebar.