As part of a beloved Ascension tradition, we will have lay homilists on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week. Elizabeth Adams has shared the text of her homily on Monday.
The Gospel for Monday in Holy Week, April 6, 2020
“You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me,” says Jesus in today’s Gospel. He is defending Mary, who has just anointed his feet with pure nard, and Judas has criticized her for not selling it and giving that money to the poor.
This statement has always puzzled me. If we do not find Christ among the poor and the afflicted, where else would we find him? Why this distinction that, at first glance, seems to set Jesus above the poor rather than in solidarity with them? Yes, we know that Judas is not sincere in his invocation of the poor, but why not just say so?
Judas’ rebuke of Mary sounds familiar. In fact it reflects the dialogue we often see on social media. A good deed is so often met with a sneering: “what about x?” We are constantly reminded of the smallness of our actions in a world that appears more broken today than it did yesterday.
In this wilderness of isolation and stillness, I confess that I have found myself gravitating towards the what ifs. What if I were a healthcare worker? What if I could sew masks? There is some part of me that desires to be in the thick of things. I feel trapped by the limits of this situation, the literal walls that enclose me. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has wallowed in their helplessness.
But who are the poor that Judas speaks of? As John notes, these “poor” are merely devices for Judas to plunder the common purse. These “poor” have no faces, no names, no stories. They are an abstraction. They are as abstract as these what ifs that run through our heads.
While Judas invokes “the poor,” Mary recognizes the particularity of the moment, the preciousness and fragility of the man that sits before her, a man who will be crucified just days later. And so she honors that moment accordingly and anoints him.
Jesus tells Judas, that Mary had bought the nard for his burial. How are we preparing for burial? In what ways do we recognize each other’s fragility? We are certainly mourning all sorts of deaths. We are mourning the deaths of those who have died, loved ones and strangers. We are mourning the death of this city that has suddenly fallen still and silent. We are also mourning the lives we were leading not even a month ago, where we could touch, hold, and be in each other’s presence. We are more aware than ever of how precious we are to one another.
When Jesus says, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me,” he is not making a distinction between himself and the poor, rather he is turning our gaze from the abstract, theoretical good deeds, and towards the particularity of the moment we find ourselves in. He is lifting the veil of these what ifs, these fantasies of a nobler part to play, and turning our gaze towards the particular person who may need us: the healthcare worker , the delivery man or woman, the grocer who stocks the aisles, and the farmer who is growing the food that will sustain us. He is turning our gaze towards each other. Yes, of course, there will always be work to do, always more to be done. But that does not detract from the value of what we are doing. It does not detract from the preciousness of who we are. Like Mary, we should always be preparing each other for burial.