Written By: Alyssa Esparaz, Compassion Canada
“The poor you will always have with you.” (Matthew 26:11)
As someone who works for an organization that strives to end poverty in the lives of children, I think about those words of Jesus a lot. So, is my work in vain?
Because we see Jesus’ heart for the poor in every aspect of His ministry, I am confident that the intended effect of His comment was not to have us throw up our hands in defeat.
Rather, I think Jesus’ point here was far more convicting.
We live in a world wrought with brokenness and injustice. In this passage, I think Jesus acknowledges that we live in a broken world where broken people will inevitably build and use unjust systems and oppressive structures to shame and marginalize vulnerable populations.
And in the case of the above passage, it was Mary who was marginalized as she poured perfume on Jesus. Judas, a man of power and privilege, was in a position to oppress Mary, and he does just that—he shames her, asking, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” (John 12:5). But, as the Gospel of John tells us, he just wanted the money for himself (John 12:6). You see, he was known to use his position of power to advance his own wealth and build his own selfish kingdom.
So, Jesus shows us what we ought to do instead, with our power and privilege.
He defends Mary. He calls her actions beautiful. He affirms her.
His actions were shocking and radical, to be sure—a man of influence defending a powerless woman. It was actions like these that made Jesus so unpopular among the religious elite of His day. In fact, Judas leaves this event to go and arrange Jesus’ betrayal.
And yet, in this story I hear Jesus saying, “Follow me. Follow my example.”
We might read that account in the Bible and imagine ourselves in Mary’s position. But I think more often than we’d like to admit, we Canadian Christian women find ourselves in Judas’ place. On the world stage, we are some of the most wealthy, powerful, and privileged people on earth. Too often, we use our privilege to advance our own kingdoms, rather than to build Christ’s Kingdom by standing up for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:31-56).
You see, because we’re broken and sinful people, we knowingly or unknowingly create and participate in systems of oppression that enslave, stigmatize, abuse and neglect our most vulnerable populations. In North America, these systems and structures are tipped in our favour in so many ways, giving us power and privileges that we often don’t even recognize. It begs the question: How can we use our position in this world as Jesus did?
I’ve sat with children living in poverty and teens fleeing war, and every single one of them is doing something exceptionally beautiful in this world. But the world is often terrible at recognizing beauty. Maybe you are all too aware of this, because the world has failed to recognize your beauty and has scarred you deeply.
But you know what? Our Saviour has already spoken these words over us, as He did over Mary: “She has done a beautiful thing.” (Matthew 26:10)
And now, with those words spoken over us, He asks us to use our voices to do another beautiful thing: to speak the same words of defence and affirmation over those who are marginalized in our communities and in the world.
I firmly believe that as we turn a little more each day from building our own kingdoms to establishing the Kingdom of Christ, those actions of love not only heal the brokenness in the world around us, but the brokenness in our own lives too.