In today’s Gospel passage, Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with a liter (or a pound, depending on your translation) of very expensive perfumed oil. Judas, who had already been stealing from the common money bag for which he was responsible, objected to this excessive display. Jesus rebuked him and said that she should be allowed to keep this perfume for the day of his burial.
Then Jesus says something which might puzzle us. “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” This seems almost dismissive towards the needs of the poor. But we must remember to whom Jesus addressed these words. And, we must understand what Jesus is telling us about caring for the poor.
First, Jesus is rebuking the man whom Jesus undoubtedly knew was stealing. Judas was in many ways already a lost soul. His comments did not come from a genuine care for the poor. They came from a desire to have more in the money bag from which he could steal. So, Jesus was not going to tell Mary to sell the perfumed oil and give the money to Judas to keep.
Second, and perhaps most important for us, Jesus tells us something about what our priorities should be. If we think about it, what Jesus says here is completely consistent with what he says about the Greatest Commandment. We are called to love God with our entire being. Something that Mary was demonstrating here. Then we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. The second necessarily flows out of the first.
When Christians care for the poor, we do not do so as secular social workers. Our care for the poor flows out of our love of God. Saint John tells us that we cannot love a God that we cannot see if we do not love the brother than we can see. When we love God, we necessarily also love others. Saint James tells us that our works are a demonstration of our faith.
At the heart of our faith is the Eucharist (and the celebration of the Eucharist in the Mass). It is the highest and most important thing for us. It is also the source from which all else that we do flows…including our care for the poor. We do not choose between showing our love of God and caring for the poor. That is a false choice. We care for the poor because we love God.