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John 12:8 Don’t hold back!

I think that John 12:8 is sometimes misinterpreted and used as an excuse not to help the poor.  This, however, is not in keeping with the rest of scripture.  John 12:1-7 tells the story of Mary pouring very expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet.  Judas who would later betray Jesus asked why this perfume wasn’t sold and the money given to the poor.  Verse 8 is Jesus’ answer to Judas:  You will always have the poor; you won’t always have Me.  Jesus would have seen Judas’ insincerity and ulterior motive, just as John evidently did.  His response needs to be taken in light of the context.  We know that Jesus cared about the poor.  His answer to a young man who wanted to know what more he could do besides keeping all the commandments was to give to the poor.  (Matthew 19:21)

Was this use of perfume a waste as Judas suggested?  Again, Jesus could see Mary’s heart.  He knew that she was honouring Him by anointing Him in this way.  She did what she knew how to do.  She knew that He would not be with them much longer so she gave what she had of value and worshipped her Lord with it.   Worshipping the Lord and giving to the poor are not mutually exclusive; we should do both. (Luke 10:27)

I heard an interview recently with Arloa Sutter, Executive Director of Breakthrough Urban Ministries www.breakthrough.org and author of The Invisible. She believes that Jesus may have been quoting from Deuteronomy 15.  In Deuteronomy 15:4-5, we read that the Lord would bless the people if they would only obey His commandments—the ones referred to in Deuteronomy 15:1-3 regarding the cancellation of debts every seven years.  In Deuteronomy 15:11 the Israelites were commanded to make sure that they opened their hand to the poor and needy in the land.  We must do the same, but not grudgingly, and not only in view of the blessing we will receive, for the Lord loves a cheerful giver.  (II Corinthians 9:7)

Did Jesus mean to say that we don’t need to help the poor?  Certainly not.  Arloa Sutter said, “Jesus might be saying love them extravagantly.  I’m not going to always be here, but the poor you’ll always have.  So love them, because when you love them you’re loving me, and do it with extravagance.  Don’t hold back.”  Now that Jesus is not on Earth in the flesh, the way we honour Him includes what we do for others.  Whatever you do for the least of these, He said, you do for me.  (Matthew 25:34-40)

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