For you will always have the poor – 5

Help the poor later or honor Jesus now?

Sell everything you have and follow me. Leave your hometown and follow me. Give up you job and follow me. These things Jesus had asked of his followers and for three years they all followed on foot.

The culmination of events, so it seemed, came two days before when Jesus entered Jerusalem like an anointed King. Then nothing.

Today is Tuesday and the Lord foretells his death to the Apostles, that which they have feared. Another choice.


2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”

3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4 and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”

Bethany and Jerusalem

In two scenes related by Matthew we see Jesus and the Apostles and learn of what Matthew would know later about the leaders of the Temple.

6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”

Recall that the Apostle John has told us that the ‘why this waste?’ question came from Judas Iscariot, though it seems others joined in.

In Bethany, near Jerusalem, notice first the anointing honoring Jesus takes place. Then discontent and criticism from those present, opposition no different than in Jerusalem from those who seek to crucify the Lord. As always, Jesus cuts to the quick with the truth.

The poor are with you always.

10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.

12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

How would you have responded to Judas?

Would I have said something like,

‘Come on, Judas, focus on the significance of the worship of Jesus, the Lord your God, here; will you?’

Probably not! And we dare not accuse the other Apostles for joining in on ‘save it for the poor.’ Jesus was not so abrupt here as you or I might have been, but you get the point.

We examined one incident prior to Palm Sunday where John dissects the motives of Judas. We began with the gospel of Mark reporting a second incident just prior to the trial of Jesus. Matthew adds some additional detail to this report. We judge these scenes of unfamiliar experience based on our distant understanding of practically nothing about these oppressed men and women of a conquered Israel of the first century.

After-dinner betrayal

14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?”

And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

The greatest story ever told does not end there. We know that.

The Gospel is Good News to us! Yet do we proclaim Jesus? Does our faith fade into our own hopes and not the calling of Christ?


Even knowing the ending, a glorious resurrection of Christ Jesus in the flesh, we offer similar excuse, don’t we?

‘I am saving up to help the poor.’

‘Someone else will have to help this mission.’

‘I may be the poor in my retirement.’

Worship or excuse?

How do I compare to when called on to witness Jesus?

A humble woman, lowly in station of life and offering a worship of her highest value, anoints the Lord Jesus. Are we too involved in something else to do the same? For you will always have the poor.


For you will always have the poor – 4

ἀλάβαστρον – alabastron

The alabaster receptacle of the anointing oil

To understand why Jesus would say, the poor are with you always,” we must understand anointing as commonly understood in the culture of the day.

People traveled to and from homes with no running water mostly by foot and anointing is often associated with washing or cleansing. Jesus instructs us to give to the poor. He cautions not to neglect washing or anointing ourselves with oil when we fast for the Lord.

MATTHEW 6:17-18

But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

A common anointing

Anointing with oil along with washing up was part of hospitality, a godly attribute commanded of the Jews. Of course these various oils and ointments needed kept in some sort of container.

On special occasions a newly opened, expensive fresh oil was most appropriate. The ancients considered alabaster to be the best material in which to preserve their ointments. Breaking the box, probably means breaking the seal of the box. 1. 

An earlier anointing

This scene takes place in the early days of Jesus’ preaching of the Good News in Galilee. Jesus cleansed lepers. Jesus healed a man who could not walk and a man who could not use his hand.

Crowds came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled with unclean spirits cured and all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.


Jesus heals the servant of a Roman soldier by command from afar. Amazingly, Jesus raised the son of a widow to life from a coffin at his funeral! Healing – healing of every imaginable sort, cleansing of the body and soul by the hand of God!

36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.

Jesus accepts our common anointing

There it is again, earlier in Jesus’ ministry, the alabaster flask of ointment. How does Jesus react here in the presence of his esteemed host?

44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.

Consequently, Jesus admonishes his host for neglecting the very least of hospitality commonly extended to guests. He corrects Simon’s hesitation to honor a guest by instead praising the anointing by this woman. For she has done what Simon was obliged to do. And the Lord further emphasizes his authority by his peace of dismissal.

” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Anointed as a welcome guest, healer, one who revives the soul of one dead in the flesh. Jesus, anointed as a King given His due. And finally, anointed for his own burial, only to rise again to rule eternally.

To be continued…

For you will always have the poor – 3

For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ – Deuteronomy 15:11

Certainly Jesus could have been referring to this command of Moses.

Thus far we have examined two of the three reports of Jesus telling us that the poor are always with us. (Our Lord means no disrespect.) Before moving on to His point in the anointing with oil and returning to the final quote, let’s take a brief Biblical look at the needy.


9:18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.

10:2 In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor;
let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.

14:6 You would shame the plans of the poor,
but the LORD is his refuge.

113:7 He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap


14:21 Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner,
but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.

19:1 Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity
than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.

28:6 Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity
than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.

Judge rightly between the words of Jesus  and the integrity of the one who remarked that the extravagant anointing of Jesus kept help from the poor.

Luke 6:30-36

Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

30 hour famine - prayer for the poor“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

Who has the LORD chosen?

Has the Lord not chosen the poor, the humble and the least of those among men a His own servants?

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. – Colossians 3:12-14

To be continued…



For you will always have the poor – 2

“For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.” – John 12:1 NKJV

This remark of Jesus cuts right to the quick, does it not? A sense of urgency here: the Son of Man is about to depart from the company of those the Lord came to save.

An earlier story (in the home of Lazarus)

Once again, I ask us to examine the 5 W’s of the gospel accounts.

In the first part of this series we examined the gospel of Mark.

We established some facts:

  1. It took place on Tuesday, two days prior to the Passover.
  2. It took place in Bethany, in the home of Simon the Leper.
  3. An unnamed woman came in and broke an alabaster flask, anointing Jesus’ head.
  4. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that?” [Once more, ‘to themselves.’]
  5. Jesus praises the unnamed woman.

Read carefully a similar, earlier incident from the gospel of John:

John 12:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.

Again, earlier – six days before the Passover, not two. And as we mentioned the Passover that year was a Thursday; therefore, most likely on the evening of the Sabbath, Friday, not the following Tuesday after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, for a final Sabbath meal with his dear friends.

2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table.

Once again, we are in Bethany, but with all certainty Lazarus is hosting the meal with Jesus as honored guest in his own home (not one of another resident of Bethany who will host them all just four days later). Martha, Mary, Lazarus and Judas Iscariot are all named in addition to Jesus.

3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

Some new detail

In addition to naming Lazarus, Mary and Martha, we now learn that Mary anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. It is the act of a servant, an act of humility. Furthermore, we learn from the Apostle John, who wrote this account and knew the disciples well, that Judas complains about the value of the pure nard. It is Judas who suggests to all the value that could be uses for the poor; yet John reveals Judas’ motive in mentioning the poor, that Judas steals cash from this treasury of the disciples.

4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.

7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

Jesus, of course, ignores the false suggestion that Judas and the disciples can sell Mary’s expensive ointment for a profit to ‘help the poor.’ Jesus defends Mary’s generous and kind act of worship.

I ask us, though: aren’t you and I just like Judas in that way?

Don’t we so often accuse the generous act of another in a way to imply that we could be better stewards of their gift to the Lord?

Jesus’ last Sabbath before the Sacrifice

Exodus 16:26  שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תִּלְקְטֻהוּ וּבַיֹּום הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לֹא יִֽהְיֶה־בֹּֽו׃

It is now Saturday, the Sabbath.

9 When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.

10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

The Triumphal Entry

12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”

Jesus, the Twelve and some followers had traveled one final journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, via Bethany. In preparation for the time at hand, they rest in the home of their risen friend, Lazarus.

Do you remember what Jesus had assured Mary after Lazarus had been in the grave four days?

(This was not the first resurrection Jesus caused, but it was the most recent.)

John 11:

25 Jesus said to her,

Do you believe this?”

27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

No words speak more of the life of one who believes than these:

To be continued…



For you will always have the poor

Why mention the poor?

Once again, Jesus makes what appears to be an offhand remark about the poor. Jesus often criticized the leaders of Temple and Pharisees for their treatment of the poor; doesn’t this remark catch you off guard?

It would be easy enough to lose the context of Jesus’ apparent ambivalence toward the poor in the rush of events surrounding Passover week. Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem has many seemingly more important things going on than what to us would first appear to be a slip of the tongue (sort of like cursing the fig tree).  Yet like in our previous series you may find some subtleties worthy of note that impact more than just the poor.

The Gospel Quotes:

Prior to examining Jesus’ point of the comment, which we will do later in this series, let’s begin quotes from the view points of three different gospel writers.

Mark 14:7

For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them.

Matthew 26:7

For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.

John 12:8

For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

The 5 W’s

Now to discover the context we must examine all three stories asking:

Who, what, where, when and why?

You will find some variation in the three Gospel stories and some similarities. We begin today with Mark’s gospel.

Mark 14:

It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, 2 for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.”

We have the ‘when:’ two days before the Passover, which in this particular year with the Passover on a Thursday, was Tuesday.

3 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head.

4 There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

Where? In the house of Simon the Leper, in Bethany, near Jerusalem.

Bethany is today el ‘Azareyeh (“the place of Lazarus”- the L being displaced to form the article).

Who is present? Jesus, of course; Simon, host of the meal (who Jesus had likely healed from leprosy; ‘some,’ likely the Twelve and others; and an unidentified woman who enters Simon’s home.

What happens? She pours out some very expensive oil on Jesus, an act of great humility and worship.

(More about her and her gracious act later.)

To be continued…


for it was not the season for figs – 8

The Fig Tree Languishes

The Prophet Joel:

[circa 835 BC]

1:3 Tell your children of it,
and let your children tell their children,
and their children to another generation…

Generations recall what has been before. Sin is always the downfall of the Lord’s chosen nation. Surely scripture speaks contemporarily to those with ears to hear.

1:12 The vine dries up;
the fig tree languishes.
Pomegranate, palm, and apple,
all the trees of the field are dried up,
and gladness dries up
from the children of man.

Yesterday they shouted, ‘Hosanna!’

Eight centuries after Joel and other prophets warned Judah to repent, Jesus of Nazareth entered Jerusalem triumphantly. Even the children shouted praises and the crowds witness miracles. Jesus then returned to nearby Bethany for the night.

A connection of Bethany to figs

Bethany was home to Lazarus, where some in the Jerusalem crowds had known that Jesus had raised him from the dead! Much is expected for this day. 

‘It lies on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, fully a mile beyond the summit. Bethany has been commonly explained “house of dates,” but it more probably signifies “house of misery.” 

Bethany “house, place of unripe figs” is a village located on the E slope of Mt. Olivet, about one and one-half miles from Jerusalem.

It was called also the house of misery on account of its lonely situation and the invalids who congregated there.’ Source

Matthew 21:

18 In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry.

19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!”

And the fig tree withered at once.

Israel and Judah had been destroyed. Jerusalem’s walls and Temple are rebuilt after many years. Rome follows other nations by again capturing a chosen people; sons of Abraham, sons of David. A King rides up to the gates triumphantly and crowds praise Jesus.

Now the Lord returns to Jerusalem and curses a fig tree.

Do the jews praising Jesus know their scripture? Of course they do.

Deuteronomy 8:

6 So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. 7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, 8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9 a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper.




Even as we have forgotten the Lord in our daily lives, Jesus, the Messiah found no fruit of repentance in Israel. The Lord found no desire of God’s chosen people to turn back to true worship of the Lord. Jesus neared the completion of His time as Son of Man. God our Father sent the Son to us in the flesh to become Sacrifice for our sins.

It was not the season for figs, but a time for sacrifice.

Matthew 21:

20 When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?”

21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

What season is your faith?

Do you worship the Lord? Would a King entering your town recognize your fruit?

Forgive me, Lord. Help me in my unbelief, for I have not asked you to take up the evil on this mountain of my mortal life and cast it into the sea.

Jesus IS Lord. He will return to reign forever and ever. Amen.


for it was not the season for figs – 7

The Lord warns of the tree and it’s fruit

In the early preaching of Jesus (right after the golden rule) Jesus offers this warning.

A Tree and Its Fruit

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. 

Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

Though the fig tree does not blossom

What shall we do?

The garden of the Lord seems long lost to sin. Leaders listening to the Lord’s command are no more. Judges enact rule of unrighteousness. Kings conquer, covet and divide. Prophets no longer warn of God and the Lord’s silence has disheartened the generations.

The head of John the Baptist has passed on a platter and crowds of Jerusalem under Rome look for a Messiah and King. A prophet seven centuries before the Lord cursed a fig tree echoed their hearts well 

Habakkuk 1: NKJV

O Lord, how long shall I cry,
And You will not hear?

Why do You look on those who deal treacherously,
And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours
A person more righteous than he?

O, faithless fig tree, dear dried up vine;

do you believe you alone have cried out to the Lord for mercy?

Habakkuk 3:

O Lord, I have heard Your speech and was afraid;
O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years!
In the midst of the years make it known;
In wrath remember mercy.

A Hymn of Faith

17 Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
18 Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.

19 The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.

A second look at a triumphal entry

Matthew 21:

4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

5 “Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?”

11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.

17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

To be continued…