by Erika Marksbury
Scripture Reading: John 12:1-8 (NRSV)
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
“You always have the poor with you.” –John 12:8
Ernesto Cardenal is a liberation theologian and a Nicaraguan Catholic priest among the people of the Solentiname Islands. Liberation theology is done, in part, by reading scripture and discussing it as a community. Cardenal has published some of the conversations his community has had about scripture, and one of them he recorded is about this passage.
In it, the people spend a lot of time wondering about the line “you always have the poor with you.” Is it good news or bad news? A promise or a threat? Just because there have always been poor people, does that have to mean there always will be? Or that, like one of the participants says in Cardenal’s conversation, “the world can’t really change”?
Eventually the speakers begin to focus on “with you” as the most important words in that passage. They suggest the passage isn’t making any claims about whether there will always be people who are poor or not, but that, as long as there are, those people will be “with” everyone else. They will not be separated. Jesus is telling his disciples not to ignore, to shut out, to turn away from the poor. Not to pretend not to see them, but to notice, to pay attention, to honor their presence among the others.
Questions to Spark Conversation
-Who is “with you” always?
-Think about the people you just named. What does their being “with you” look like, feel like, sound like, smell like?
-What are some possibilities for building relationships for people who are always with you? What are some ways you can connect?
Make a “family” tree. Use lots of branches and think about ways that you are connected to lots of individual people – relatives, friends, classmates, neighbors – and groups of people, too, whose stories are rooted with yours or branch off of yours or grow near yours. As a family, talk about the different kinds of connections and the life that they bring.
Thank you for the people
who are with us always.
Thank you for the stories
that are with us always.
Thank you for your love
that is with us always.