You always have the poor with you.
This statement by Jesus in Matthew 26:11 is fundamentally about valuing the presence of Jesus. It is not an excuse, though some have tried to use it this way, to neglect the poor. Rather Jesus is commending a woman who recognizing His own immanent death and burial (if not necessarily His resurrection), performs an extravagant demonstration of love towards Jesus.
Of the many good deeds we ought to do as Christ followers, worship is the greatest good deed of them all. It provides for us the necessary endurance to fulfill the “always” present needs of others—“you will always have the poor with you.” And it adorns and adds luster to our gospel proclamation—“wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”
“Always” is an overwhelming word. It’s an exhausting word. It reminds of us of the constant obligation we have to be servants of those in need. But it also, in this context, highlights the fact that we cannot possibly carry out such an obligation unless we have first allowed the presence of Jesus to shape and transform our affections.
This week as we celebrate the Resurrection, I’m reminded of the necessity of extravagant worship, of worshipping with reckless abandon even, to the point where all my priorities and all my busyness converge on the Person of Jesus. But the key, I believe, is not to do this as a means to an end—not to worship ‘so that’ we can serve better, but to worship solely in order to be in Jesus’ presence. When that is our only goal, our only desire, then the love of Jesus is able to transform our hearts and minds (Rom. 12:1-2) so that our service is not driven by obligation but by the same radical love that carried Jesus to the cross.
You will always have the poor with you is a reminder to prioritize presence over performance, relationship over responsibilities. It is a reminder that the most significant thing we can do at anytime of the year, is to lavish extravagant love on our Savior.