Forget the Poor — Anoint Me

by Bill Noorlander

I have a confession to make. I went Catholic Mass on Palm Sunday. Lest anyone think the spirit has moved me, I went because I lost a bet with one of my non-believing brethren.

I took my medicine like a man, and dutifully sat through the service. Truthfully, I spent most of the service wondering things like: “How can this huge building not be taxed?” and “Some of the greatest classical music was written for the Catholic mass, why don’t American Catholics use it?”

“The Poor You Will Always Have With You”

Then through the fog of my own reason I heard the priest read the following from the Gospel of Mark:

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as 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. Tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Now this caught my attention: the “people” wanted to sell expensive perfume in order to feed the poor, and Jesus thought it was a better idea to anoint his body with it?!

What Would Jesus Do?

When asking WWJD, aren’t we all suppose to believe that he loves the poor and wants to help them? Yet here he is basically telling the poor to take a hike because his body needs to be properly anointed. Did Jesus really need that perfume?

Doesn’t seem like Jesus acted very Jesusy here.

But what about this “the poor you will always have with you” stuff? Isn’t Jesus part of the three in one all powerful creator God? Doesn’t that mean he can “poof” the poor away in an instant if he wants to? Why doesn’t he?

If Jesus is all powerful, the poor exist because he wants them to exist. Doesn’t seem very worthy of worship.

If Jesus is incapable of raising the poor from poverty, he isn’t all powerful. Doesn’t seem very God-like.

Either way, I’m not putting on my “Sunday best” to go worship him.

Bill Noorlander is a lawyer in Milwaukee, where he live with his wife and four kids. He blogs at Bill Post.

You Can't Keep a Bad Man Down
Meet The Wife
Atheists in the Evangelical Mind
Jesus was is a Muslim
  • Steven Carr

    ‘Simon the Leper’

    Not the nicest name to be known by

    Of course, after he met Jesus, he was known as Simon-still-the-Leper.

    People used to point him out as somebody miraculously not healed by Jesus.

    ‘Tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”’

    Of course, Mark couldn’t be bothered to tell anybody her name. That would be sharing the limelight.

  • Flea

    Two questions.

    A minor one: How did the magic man justify the action of Jesus?

    And a major one, “I went because I lost a bet with one of my non-believing brethren”: Can you give details please?

  • http://billpost.blogspot.com/ Bill

    1. There was no explanation, just a reading. I wasn’t raised catholic (I was raised presbyterian), and this was a big difference in the services I grew up with. The mass didn’t include a “sermon” as I remember it.

    2. It was work related. I can’t discuss the details, but basically I thought one thing would happen he thought another. We bet on it, and the loser had to take his family to palm sunday mass.

  • http://www.sindri79.blog.is Sindri Guðjónsson

    When I was a Christian, I used the fact that Jesus had said: “The poor you will always have with you”, as an argument against socialism (but only when I was talking to bible Christians, since it is not an argument for those that didn’t believe the same way I did). Jesus said that poverty could not be eradicated, so stay conservative! (btw I am still a fiscal conservative (or perhaps a moderate) when it comes to politics)

  • Billybee

    And Jebus said: “Give your goodies to ME !!”.

  • Sunny Day

    “But what about this “the poor you will always have with you” stuff? Isn’t Jesus part of the three in one all powerful creator God? Doesn’t that mean he can “poof” the poor away in an instant if he wants to? Why doesn’t he?”

    That’s because some theists paint god as both all powerful and also a pitiable creature trapped by the circumstances of its own existence. (example below) Yah, it doesn’t make any sense to me either. But when you start

    ****************************************
    “You assume that the law of God is arbitrary, that God could choose to make the law be whatever He wanted it to be.

    God could no more make the moral law in a different way than he could make the laws of mathematics a different way. All of these abstract laws are an expression of His nature and character.

    God’s character is the basis for good attitudes. God’s actions are the basis for good behavior. God’s character and morality cannot change because His being cannot change.

    God’s knowledge is the basis for the laws of logic, and by consequence the laws of mathematics. He cannot learn or forget. His knowledge is unchanging, and everything He knows must fit together into a coherent account. Logic helps us spot inconsistencies in our own views, the places where our knowledge does not fit together coherently.

    God could not make the laws of morality or the laws of logic differently than what they are. God, being who He is, must create as an expression of Himself.

    Things being what they are, the laws of morality cannot be any different. We know this intuitively whether we admit it or not. We know some things are right and some things are wrong. That is the way the universe works. We know it full well.”
    *********************

    Yah, it doesn’t make any sense to me either. But when you start from a conclusion and work backwards from there you get to manufacture all kinds of nonsense. But working backwards from the problem allows you to check your answers. LOL

    The theist I spoke to admits this.

    “My mathematics textbook in high school contained the correct answers to many of the practice problems. Having the answers allowed me to check my work. I still had to solve the problem using good logic and math. skills in order to get any benefit. I didn’t just write down the answers that were given and take them on faith.

    The point is that the justification may be accurate even if I do work backwards. What matters is the logic and truth of the argument itself.”

  • http://www.slim-blondje.com/eng Pascalle

    I actually think Jebus had a point there.

    Think of the timing of the “whining” of his diciples.
    The jar was already broken and he was already drenched in the stuff.

    What was he supposed to say? Poof back in the bottle infidel perfume?

    I don’t believe in god, but i do think that jesus has walked the earth. Human man jesus.. who could make up amazing stories and had his own view on morality and what he hoped would happen soon (the coming of the kingdom of god). But none of that god spirit jebus all in one crap that can wave a magic finger.

    I imagine what i would say.. if someone drenched me in expensive perfume and my friends (who know i’m on welfare) would say.. OMG.. such a pitty that chick put the stuff on you we could have sold it.

    I would see it as a gift as well and thank the chick. If i had known before hand, i would have stopped her and make better use of the money.. but that wasn’t the case.. was it?
    It had already been done.

    Case of “you can’t turn back what has been done so you better be grateful for it”.
    And _that_ i think is indeed a very good way of viewing it.

  • reformedfred

    I like Bill’s observation about why isn’t this place (the church he visited) taxed. I am currently in a huge debate with a group of folks about this same issue given the economy the way it is, especially in my home state. To not tax (I’m speaking specificaly of property tax) is to be given a government subsidy, and that should fly in the face of separation of church and state. It fries my ass that our libraries are closing, our teachers are getting laid off, my kids’ college tuitions are going up 28%, and yet there are over 30 elaborately built (bordering decadent) churches w/i a 5 mile radius of my home. We’re talking churches with gyms, coffee shops, indoor pools and all the other hotel ammenities that Jesus wants his followers to have access to. The folks on the other side of this debate try and make the claim that these churches do so much for the community. So what? I do too but I still pay my freakin’ taxes. ‘Render unto Caesar’, I say and stop the proliferation of consumer-driven-christianity.

  • Alexis

    The poor will be with you always. This passage was often cited by Mother (on the fast track to sainthood) Theresa. This helped her justify the millions in unspent donations she had at the time of her death.

  • brgulker

    No offense intended, but I think you’re missing the forest for the trees here.

    I’ll take my best stab to explain why.

    One of the thematic elements of the Gospel of Mark is that the disciples (who would have been included in “those present” from this passage) continually misunderstand the message of Jesus. Moreover, it becomes clear throughout the narrative that the disciples often take or suggest action to try to impress Jesus, not because they have understood the ultimate message of his teaching.

    When set in that thematic context, it is entirely appropriate to understand the comments of “those present” as an attempt to impress Jesus, not necessarily out of genuine concern for the poor.

    Also, in Mark, the disciples fail to discern Jesus’ identity time and again, and this is yet another example of that failure. The woman, on the other hand, recognizes Jesus and his importance and responds with a valuable gift.

    Hence the statement about the poor, which really isn’t about the poor at all; rather, it’s about Jesus himself and is meant to emphasize how short his time will be, thus foreshadowing his death.

    Moreover, it’s not as if Jesus asks for this. A woman approaches him with a gift that she pours on him of her own volition. For your argument to work, you have to assume that Jesus should have stopped her? That seems silly. Why should he?

    When asking WWJD, aren’t we all suppose to believe that he loves the poor and wants to help them? Yet here he is basically telling the poor to take a hike because his body needs to be properly anointed. Did Jesus really need that perfume?

    You’re wrong about the first part. I could raise the argument that you’re prooftexting, which you are. I could point you to parable upon parable in which Jesus speaks about money, greed, and poverty.

    But ultimately, I don’t think your argument works because you’ve ignored the literary context and have consequently put the emphasis on the wrong syllable. The point of this short story is not that Jesus disregards the poor. The point is that a woman recognized Jesus when his own disciples did not and responded with a sacrificial gift to him. The response from the disciples should not be recognized as authentic, given their history in the narrative of Mark, so Jesus does not validate it in his response. Instead, he points out the woman’s recognition of who he is, which the disciples repeatedly miss.

    That’s the point of this short story.

    If you want to dispute the point of the text, please feel free. I’m assuming you would say something like Jesus was wrong about himself and so was this woman for anointing his body and that the disciples were actually right, in spite of their suspicious intentions. That’s fine by me, because you’re actually engaging the text on its own terms.

    But, don’t contort an isolated story from a larger literary context to make a point that’s not there.

  • Kevin

    brgulker

    I give you this from a chistoher hitchens article on Mother Theresa

    “She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had been—she preferred California clinics when she got sick herself—and her order always refused to publish any audit. But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility? “

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Blessed are the humble.

  • Shelly

    As to Mother Theresa, I’ve read she refused to give dying patients pain medications. That alone makes her deserving of contempt.

  • claidheamh mor

    I was always puzzled by this story. Never took it as a lesson or an admonishment to be socialist or anything else, just a puzzling story. (Well, maybe an admonishment against overpopulation.) It always left me thinking (as much as I hate it, and whatever we do to help), “It looks like it’s factual that poverty and the poor will always be around.” A story someone wrote around a kernel of depressing but so-far-inescapable fact.

  • Mark D

    Without the poor, who would full up the churches?

    “Ken’s Guide to the Bible” by Ken Smith lists many of Jesus’s other selfish behaviors.

  • http://unreasonablefaith.com Daniel Florien

    Jesus loves the poor SO MUCH, he wants them to remain that way. In fact, he insists it.

  • Kevin

    “I obviously wasn’t as clear as I should have been.

    I was trying to demonstrate that the “inconsistency” that was sited in the OP could be explained (not explained away) when set in its literary context”

    Christians only talk about context when they need to deflect from a simple truth: That the bible advocates positions that are morally indefensible. In this scripture, Jesus stated very clearly what his priorities were when it came to choosing between the poor and his own vanity

  • dr.R.

    Lest anyone think the spirit has moved me, I went because I lost a bet with one of my non-believing brethren.

    There, that should learn you not to bet. Luckily for you it was not Pascal’s wager that you lost.

    “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.

    Maybe this is why the church has always wanted to build such huge and expensive buildings in the first place: “donate your money for our new cathedral to honour Jebus! Forget about the poor – you can always help them later!”

  • Mau de Katt

    Hmm… regardless of the hermeneutical and contextual arguments presented on the supporting side, it’s highly likely that the writer of The Gospel of John had the same problem with that text. In his version of the tale (John 12:1-8), it wasn’t some or all of The Twelve who griped about the waste, it was ~Judas~ (by the time of this last gospel’s writing, already well-established as a villain), and he was griping not because the money could have gone to the poor instead of on Jesus’ bod, but because he had a habit of filching from the group’s money bag. So the criticism in the argument was changed into an anti-hypocrisy one rather than one of not recognizing Jesus for who he was and what was about to happen to him.

  • http://zayzayem.wordpress.com zayzayem

    I always thought JC was more trying to calm down his chauvanistic buddies from using a poor excuse to go beat up a woman who thought she was doing something right.

    You can’t exactly un-break a bottle of perfume after its been poured over your head.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X