The Anointing at Bethany
In today’s gospel passage, Jesus says: “You always have the poor with you but you do not always have me,” (v. 8). He says this to Judas Iscariot because Judas gets angry at the sight of Mary pouring a jar of expensive ointment over His feet and dries them with her hair to show her passionate love for Jesus. And this is also her gratitude for God’s mercy in raising Lazarus back to life again. We admire this expression of Mary’s love, because it is so generous and humbling. Jesus appreciates this. He even adds that the whole world will always remember what she has done for Him. But Judas is “scandalized.” For him, this is a terrible waste! The money spends for the perfumed oil can be used for the poor. But in reality Judas was a thief, selfish and greedy. He is the treasurer of the group but he used to steal the contributions (v.6).
What does Jesus mean with these words, ‘You always have the poor with you but you do not always have me’? Yes it is a fact that there are always poor people around us. But Jesus wants to tell His disciples and us that Christianity is not exclusively only for the poor people and needy. Rather, “it is also a personal love exclusively to Him, a love that justifies many sacrifices,” says Segundo Galilea.
Actually, there is no conflict between concern for the poor and generosity in worship. Somebody said that the physical conditions of the church and of the materials used for worship, especially those which come in contact with the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, must be elegant and noble. Without being luxurious, they should be dignified. The anawim, the poor of the Lord, appreciate generosity in worship. They are like the widow who gave in her little mite and earned the admiration of Christ for her generosity.
But the problem with many of us is that we give so much importance to the one, like our concern for the poor but on the process we neglect the more important one which is our personal prayer and meditation to our God. Just like this incident that I read from the homily of Fr. Eliseo Yyance, SVD (Bible Diary 2008) that in one of the parishes he had been to, a lay leader observed that their parish priest is so involved with the plight of the poor farmers that they don’t see him anymore praying and practically neglecting their spiritual needs. He opined that her observation is quite true because some priests and even religious today are becoming social workers rather than men and women of prayer. He said: “There’s no question about getting involved with the plight of the poor, for that’s our mission. However, too much involvement should not deny or alienate us from our need to have a personal intimacy with Jesus.” Let us balance the two.
At the end, let us also pay attention and reflect to what Most Rev. Paciano Aniceto, DD, the archbishop of San Fernando, Pampanga, had said in his homily during his 71st birthday last March 9, 2008 (Phil. Daily Inquirer March 9, 2008 p. A2). He said, by citing also this Benedictine motto’s Ora et Labora: “Ora et Labora (Pray and Work). Let’s pray together, discern together so that we could know the will of God for the Filipino people….This pray and work stand had made the CBCP unpopular…The Church is a sign of contradiction but it comes from a position of strength because the center of evangelization is Jesus.”