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The Promise

by Tim O'Hearn

There is a comforting promise in Mark 14:7. Some people may see it as a threat, or at best a mere statement of fact. It may, however, be seen as a promise.

A woman (John tells us it was Mary, the sister of Lazarus) came to Jesus as he ate in the house of Simon the Leper. She broke open an expensive vial of ointment and put it on the head and feet of Jesus. The disciples, most notably Judas bar Simon of Kerioth, complained that she should have sold it and given the money to the poor. Of course, the poor man Judas wanted it given to was Judas. Jesus answered with the promise. "Ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always." No, the promise is not the second clause, but the first—"you have the poor with you always."

What, you may ask, is so comforting about that? It certainly can't be comforting to those poor that he is talking about. To the rest of us it is only comforting because we know we aren't among them. What else is there to the Lord's words?

Here is the comfort, that God doesn't waste his commands. God doesn't tell us to do something, and then prevent us from doing it. If his mitzvot, his commands are for our benefit then he makes sure we are able to benefit. There may be great comfort in that, because it shows that God is not purely arbitrary. He doesn't make commands just to make commands. He doesn't lay down the law just to watch us squirm. He cares about us.

How do we know this? He promises that we will always have opportunity to give to the poor. "Whenever you want you may do good to them." We may not be able to do good to Jesus directly, as Mary did. Instead we have the poor to help. "Inasmuch as ye have done unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done unto me." (Matt 25:40) We can do as much as Mary did, and more, because we will always have the opportunity.

So much is written about giving alms/charity. We were "created for good works." (Eph 2:10) It is so much a part of our make-up that "it is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35) In Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, "Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again." (Lk 6:30) We are to be generous even to those whose desperation leads them to stealing from us.

If giving charity is such an important command, if it something that is so important to our spiritual welfare, then it is nice to know that God promises we will always have the opportunity for it. Since God commands it of us, it is comforting to know that he will always give us the opportunity to fulfill his command.

Of course, I am not proposing that God necessarily picks certain people to be poor just for the benefit of the few who have. After all, poor is really a relative term. Was not the widow commended for her giving (Mark 12:42-44), even though she was what almost everyone would call poor? No, God does not make people poor. But maybe sometimes he wonders why some people think they are among the poor. Sometimes, maybe, the passage should read, "The poorER you will have with you always."