33: God is in poverty.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
6 When Jesus was at Bethany visiting the house of Simon, who had a skin disease, 7 a woman came to him with a vase made of alabaster containing very expensive perfume. She poured it on Jesus’ head while he was sitting at dinner. 8 Now when the disciples saw it they were angry and said, “Why this waste? 9 This perfume could have been sold for a lot of money and given to the poor.”
10 But Jesus knew what they were thinking. He said, “Why do you make trouble for the woman? She’s done a good thing for me. 11 You always have the poor with you, but you won’t always have me. 12 By pouring this perfume over my body she’s prepared me to be buried. 13 I tell you the truth that wherever in the whole world this good news is announced, what she’s done will also be told in memory of her.”
Matthew 26:6-13 CEB
I don't know, maybe between two to four years ago I had this conversation about boundaries in the church, and our sacred duty to keep them. I suggested that even if your specific congregation claims to have no boundaries, they still exist. I have this go-to example I use. There was a church I visited that claimed the overused phrase: "Come as your are." The minister announced, "Anyone can come here! We are welcoming to all." The church dressed in nice casual attire, and they were called to register for the upcoming series on their smartphone. Do you see the boundary that exists in this church? I could.
Churches don't meet the need of the poor well at all. We talk a big game, and set aside space for those who struggle. We set up systems to take their already depleted funds through prayer oil and surprise offerings. Our problem is we don't get it, like really don't get it.
When we read "the poor will always be with you," we assume that means the poor, in some form, will always exist. If that were the case, why is Jesus comparing this to him not being there? We have one of two scenarios, and both of them would shake the foundations of Chrstiandom. Perhaps Jesus is truly dead and gone, but the poor will always exist. That seems like an understandable reading if we are to take Jesus' words to say poverty is an incurable disease. The reading I like better is, Jesus is no longer with the Disciples/Apostles of the world, but we are with the poor. We should treat all people like part of the the Body of Christ, not as a tool to accomplish our service project for the week/month/year.
Walking with the poor is hard work for those who have never been poor, and for most ministers, they have absolutely no context. I had a taste of poverty, but I'm still clueless of it's terrible power to demean and destroy. Over the past month I've paid over a hundred dollars to various organizations so my children can have enriching activities. I remember the time that was no even possible. I will always remember needing to count down to the pennies in my hand for groceries. See, I get the value of $100. I get how much can be done with it, but I don't get it at the same time because I now have it for purposes outside direct needs.
"The poor will always be with you," is not a statement of failure (because if the poor always exist, then we are failures as Christians). It is a statement of mission and presence. We are always called to walk beside, not lord over. The poor are with us, not in the next room, or only on every other Tuesday of the month.That' how we meet God in the world. God is in poverty.
Let us pray:
Oh God, Meet us in our need as we meet the needs of others. Amen.