Clever Verses for Context
But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”(John 12:4-5)
Judas is concerned about the poor (ptōchos). The Evangelist John is quick to call Judas a fraud and a thief, but even if we take Judas’ concern at face value, who exactly are the poor or beggars he is referring too? Perhaps the most memorable example of a beggar in the Gospel of John is the one introduced in John chapter 9. This man first appears begging in the street until Jesus restores his sight. From there he goes seeking Jesus, proclaiming the miracle he has experienced, and even naming Jesus as the Son of God, an action which gets him expelled from the local synagogue. This hardly seems like someone who would condemn Mary in her anointing of Jesus’ feet. Certainly concern for the poor is admirable, but discipleship involves not just concern for the least of these, but knowing them and recognizing them as fellow followers of Jesus.
When Odysseus returns home to Ithaca, he is initially disguised as an “old and sorry beggar” (ptōchos, Odyssey 16.273). In this guise, he meets and fights with another beggar (ptōchos) named Irus. Penelope’s suitors, the clear villains of the story, encourage Odysseus and Irus to fight over the opportunity to join them in their feasting (see Odyssey 18).
Clever Questions for Further Reflection
What are your impressions and experiences of poverty?
How has being in a relationship with someone changed how you saw the world and experienced God?
A Clever Prayer to Close
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.