Read: John 12:1-7
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.”
The reading for this first day in Holy Week begins with Jesus having a dinner with some of his closest friends. It is a reminder that sharing food is not simply a matter of nourishing the body but is also the occasion for sharing life together with others. In this passage, Jesus will not allow Judas to set the celebratory elements of eating together against caring for the poor. These two important aspects of food need not be in competition with each other. Food’s relationship to our life together changes dramatically, however, when there is not enough to eat.
In the United States, nearly 48 million people qualify as “food insecure.” More than half half live outside cities, and many are in full-time jobs. The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, what you might know as food stamps, was cut by Congress in 2013. The current payment to individuals amounts to less than $1.50 per meal.
The call to attend to the food needs of the poor is deeply written into the fabric of scripture. This goes as far back as God’s provision for the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness. It gets expressed in laws around gleaning and the Jubilee. At Paul’s behest, the earliest believers in Asia Minor collected money for famine relief in Jerusalem.
Believers can donate time, money, and food to food pantries. These are often a crucial bridge between pay checks for the working poor. We might also want to reflect on some of the following questions: Why do crop subsidies often go to things like corn and soybeans that are used to make processed foods and render them inexpensive? Why are obesity and food insecurity two sides of the same coin? From where I live right now, could I get to a grocery store if I did not have a car?
Heavenly Father, we remember before you those who suffer hunger and the anxiety that comes from not knowing if they will have enough food. Guide the people of this land so to use our public and private wealth that all may have enough to eat and that the food they have will genuinely nourish their bodies; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Stephen Fowl is a professor of theology at Loyola University in Maryland.