“Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head, as he sat at table. But when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for a large sum, and given to the poor.’ But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing (ἔργον καλὸν) to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me….’” (Mt 26: 6-11)
According to another Evangelist, John, it was the treacherous Judas Iscariot, and not any other of “the disciples,” who objected to the “waste” of the expensive ointment on Christ, out of an alleged concern for “the poor” (Jn 12: 4-6). It reminds me of the objections, voiced by some in our day, to spending millions of dollars to re-build Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. This money, they say, could be better spent on “the poor,” or human beings who are “hungry” and “in need.”
But we are all “hungry” and “in need,” – in more ways than one. Because human beings do not “live” by “bread alone” (Lk 4: 4). Note that today, in the relatively-prosperous country of the United States, on the list of the leading causes of death, suicide is much higher on the list than (physical) hunger. I’m thinking, we also need the life-bringing “words” and other “symbols” of God, revealed to us in great achievements of art; in literature, music, painting, architecture, and even sports, which inspire us to be “better.” We know this, which is why some of the highest-paid members of our society are the top-musicians, actors, authors, and athletes.
So while we are, as Christians, indeed called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, etc., we are called to do this in more ways than one, according to our specific “vocations.” And these “vocations,” or “callings,” to serve, are revealed to each of us quite specifically, in the specific situations and people “in need,” that present themselves to us in the specific vicinity of our own “outreach.” It’s not some abstract of “the poor” that we “always have with us,” in every country across the globe, and all of whom we couldn’t possibly help, or even know about. It’s rather the thing or person that crosses my path today, that I “will not always have,” and which/whom I am called to “serve” in the specific ways that I can, according to my “vocation” today. So let me “help” and “serve” the “need” of my vicinity, because Christ sees this as “a beautiful thing” that I do “to Him,” in my today.