Rich in Poverty

The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. – Matthew 26:11

We all know who the poor are. It's obvious. We see them every day. Many of us actually fit the bill for being poor.

This passage from Matthew's Gospel is a troubling one. The context is the story of Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, breaking open an expensive bottle of perfume and anointing Jesus' feet. The disciples grumbled saying, "This was expensive perfume. Why wasn't it sold and the money given to the poor?"

Jesus, though, saw things a bit differently. Mary was in poverty. She probably spent all she had to purchase the perfume so she could anoint Jesus' feet with it. In the kingdom of God, there is nothing more precious, more valuable, than the full self giving of oneself, in love, to God. Remember the time Jesus and his disciples were in the temple observing people giving their tithes? They saw both rich and poor giving money, but it was of the poor woman who gave all she had that Jesus said, "This woman has given more than anyone else. They gave out of their wealth, but she has given out of her poverty." The same principle applies here with Mary. Not only would it have been cruel to take the heart offered gift from Mary and give it to someone else, but it would be an insult to her poverty and sincerity in her self giving.

Jesus did not take what she did lightly. He was not glorifying in himself. Rather, he showed the utmost humility in receiving from a woman in poverty. He was not above her. He did not set himself as superior to her and her gift. He graciously received it.

The "poor" in the original quote are not merely those of financial poverty, but anyone who is in great need. Whether it be ignorance, addiction, entitlement, or whatever, these are people who are in deep and desperate need. We often think of them as victims of their own foolishness. And perhaps they are, but that does not eliminate their present situation.

As Christians, we are to condemn NO ONE. We are to love all. We are to pray for our enemies (and not in the sense of asking God to 'get them' or 'make them like us'), bless those who curse us and give sustenance to any who are in need of it.

The world is full of poverty of all sorts. We have not been called to eradicate it, as it will never happen, but we are called to love, to feed, to give.

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The Narcissistic Jesus

Jesus-Loves-Me1“Jesus loves me this I know.” How many times have we sung that children’s hymn? The message it teaches is wonderful; Jesus loves us all regardless of color, race, or any other defining characteristic. He loves us when we are weak or when we are strong. It doesn’t matter; his love for us is unconditional.

As we grow older, though, childhood memories fade and those which we can still recall to some degree, we look at through the eyes of experience; reinterpreting them. All too often we fail to retain our childhood understanding of Jesus’ love for us and replace it with something disturbing: The love of a narcissistic Jesus.

Through preaching, teaching and our own reflections on life we often come to feel if not outright believe, that Jesus only loves us in so far as we are like him. If you recall the ancient myth of Narcissus, you will remember that he drowned after falling into a pool of water while admiring his own reflection.

This is narcissism: loving oneself so much that one cannot love anything else that is not in ones own image. The end of narcissism is self-destruction. Death.

Is this really how we want to think of Jesus? Do we really want to cast him as one who only loves those who are like him? Surely this is an affront to the Love of God and twists it into an abominable thing. God is not a monster! He is kind and forgiving, loving, gentle, gracious. He does not love us by twisting us against our will to be what we are not. He loves us as we are. Yes, he offers us transformation, sanctification, theosis. He gives us grace to become beautiful as he is beautiful. But he does not love us on account of how much we are like him. He love us unconditionally. “But God showed forth his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”, says Saint Paul. That is to say he considered us friends, even intimate friends, before we ever sought him or knew him.

Jesus, the REAL Jesus, is not a narcissist. He loves me, this I know. Just as I am without one plea. He loves you. Just as you are. He calls you to higher, better, more beautiful things, but he loves you NOW. Do not give in to the narcissistic Jesus: THAT Jesus will drown you in guilt and grief.

Jesus loves me, this I know…