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What, exactly, did he mean by this?

Now the chief priests and the Pharisees [in Jerusalem] had given orders that if anyone knew where he [Jesus, AD 30] was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him. Six days before the Passover, Jesus (A) therefore [Why?] came to Bethany [2 miles from Jerusalem], where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead [the week before]. So, they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary (B) therefore [Why?] 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. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to give him over), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii [about £30,000 today] and given to the poor?” 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. Jesus said, (C) “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for my burial. Because the poor you always have with you all, but you do not always have me.” Then the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there and they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus. John 11: 57 – 12: 11 [written c. AD 90]
 
You may well have a few problems about the incident in bold above. I’ve labelled them (A), (B) and (C) above.

On (A), why did Jesus go to Jerusalem? Is the answer in the first sentence? - Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.  Is the answer repeated in the closing sentence? -  So, the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus. It seems that he deliberately went to Jerusalem to his death.

 
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‘Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money. Not Pilate, for fear. Not the Jews, for envy. But the Father, for love!’ (Octavius Winslow, pastor, 1808-1878)
On (B), why did Mary take this expensive ointment and use it on the feet of Jesus? Was it because, a week earlier, Jesus had raised from the dead Mary’s brother, Lazarus, despite the fact that he had been buried for four days? Did she see Jesus as the source of totally new life? Had she realized that she could only have life after death if someone died in her place? Has she silently realized he was going to do that? Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for my burial.

But the biggest of the three problems is (C). What, exactly, did Jesus mean when he said this? “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for my burial. Because the poor you always have with you all, but you do not always have me.” If his first sentence explains Mary’s discovery what is the meaning of his second sentence? He seems to be saying that his death is more important than all the poor of our poverty-stricken world. Can’t be!

Judas may help us. John records, Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to give Jesus over), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for £30,000 and given to the poor?” 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.  This man pretended to follow Jesus but was about to give him over to be killed.  Also, he pretended to care for the poor but instead enriched himself. Is it the human determination to “get-for-me” which gives rise to “poverty-for-you”? Does Judas identify the root cause of this always-with-us poverty: our getting, our keeping?

 
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‘Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.’ (James Bovard) 
Mary also may help us. John records, Mary therefore took £30,000 of expensive ointment made from pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. This woman was probably placing her life’s savings on the one whom she knew would die to save her (and a multitude of others) from death as he had done with her brother Lazarus. That act of selfless love-in-action on his part deserves her all. She will give her all in return. With such love-in-action arising within her through Jesus, maybe poverty on earth would be ended? 

Jesus is a realist. He said, Because the poor you always have with you all, but you do not always have me. He meant it. This world will be changed a little – maybe a lot – by those like Mary who turn to Jesus with all their heart. But the poor will always remain when unchanged human beings continue to pursue their “getting”. The wonderful thing is that this Jesus, through his determination to die for others, is still calling us to escape death through his death. And then to live with a new longing to escape the “getting” which kills.

 
Sinner Syvret

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