Prayer for the Poor

To watch the Prayer for the Poor from the Church of Sant’Egidio click here.

John 12:1-11

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 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?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

The Gospel of John begins the narration of the Passion of Jesus with a dinner in Bethany at the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus – a family that was very dear to Jesus. In those days of his harsh struggles with the Pharisees and priests, this home had become a place of rest and repose. It was six days before the Passover, as it is for us now, and once again Jesus was having dinner with them. Lazarus, whom Jesus had recently brought back to life, was there too. At one point during the dinner Mary gets up, comes close to Jesus, and kneels at his feet, covering them with a precious ointment and then drying them with her hair. Her gesture can be a sign of affectionate gratitude for the gift of life to her brother. It is in any event a gesture full of gratuitousness. But Judas thinks differently. For him, this gesture so full of love is a useless waste. The evangelist notes that he said this not because the poor were of interest to him but rather money, that is his own advantage. Jesus responds immediately to Judas and says, “Leave her alone.” Jesus wants Mary to continue her loving gesture: the ointment she uses foreshadows the oil that will be poured on his body before his burial and then he adds: “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” Indeed shortly Jesus was about to begin his way of the cross, which would lead to his death. Mary was the only one who understood that Jesus was going to be put to death and therefore needed special affection and closeness. In that attitude that was so tender and full of love, made of simple and concrete gestures, is symbolized the way of salvation: being at the side of the poor, of the weak and the elderly, we are close to Jesus himself. This is the meaning of Jesus’ saying: “You have always the poor with you.” They could tell us how much need they have of the perfume of friendship and love. Blessed are we – and they – if we have Mary’s same tenderness and audacity!