Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Lent day 2

John would have to be my favourite gospel. More of the private discourses than the synoptics, John has an almost mystical bent, while still being thoroughly Jewish in character.

In John 12:1-11 we read about Mary's anointing Jesus' feet with expensive perfume, even wiping his feet with her hair. Given people wore sandals and walked in the dust, washing of feet was lowly work for the lowest of slaves, yet Mary's hair was not too lovely to express her love for Jesus.

Now we've all met that religious person whose fervor seems unplugged from reality just a little, yet you'd have to say this act that some might find degrading is received so graciously and seen for what it was, an act of pure love.

On the opposite hand, we have the cynical and soon to become betrayer Judas, who was a thief to boot. His claim to care for the poor was empty, but many have misunderstood Jesus' words 'For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.' in verse 8. Jesus is not saying that poverty and injustice will always exist, so just accept it. He was showing Judas up for who he really was, and the full significance of Mary's actions, as pointing towards Jesus' death and burial.

This verse points to Deuteronomy 15, which deals with remitting debt and the Sabbath economics which meant that everyone would be provided for and no one could accumulate too much. Speaking to the people of Israel, it says in verse 4 that 'However, there will be no poor among you, since the Lord will surely bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess'. Israel was meant to be an inheritance for all, yet in Jesus time, Roman taxation and exploitation meant that many were poor.

So in an age where for Christians there is no one country that is 'the promised land', how do we address what Jesus says here? Well for one thing, we don't have him with us. He has died, risen and ascended.

It seems to me we love him now in acts of praise, worship, and piety. But as we love God we also love neighbour, and as Paul says, do good to all, especially those in the household of faith. We recognise that the fact that there are poor still among us is not how it is meant to be. We will do all kinds of acts of love, from pure charity, to aid and development, to challenging the systems that oppress people politically, economically and spiritually.

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