The four Gospels all describe an incident. They differ greatly in the cast and the details, but that incident or series of similar incidents made a big impression. Matthew and Mark even say that anyone telling the Gospel will also tell this story.
It goes somewhat like this: Jesus is at dinner when a woman anoints him with expensive perfume. Some trolls say the woman is doing something wrong.
|Mt. 26||Simon the Leper (Bethany)||a||costly perfume on head||a high price||the disciples|
|Mark 14||Simon the Leper (Bethany)||a||nard perfume on head||over 300 denarii||some|
|Luke 7?||Simon, a Pharisee (Nain?)||a sinner||perfume on feet||N/A||Simon|
|John 12||where Lazarus was (Bethany)||Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus||nard on feet||300 denarii||Judas Iscariot|
In Luke, she’s wrong in touching Jesus – or at least, He’s wrong in letting her. (I have to wonder how she got in there if she was so notorious.)
In the other three Gospels, the trolls say that the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus says she’s done it for his burial OK, fine, makes sense; should have been a one-punch knockout.
However, he also says that the trolls will always have the poor with them and they can do good to them any time they want. It sounds like a complete non sequitur. What does that statement have to do with anything?
Matthew, Mark, and John were written by/for Hebrews. Everyone in their target audience knew the Law. They knew that it says, “There will be no poor among you.” No Jew would miss the rebuke in Jesus’ words!
Those trolls are criticizing her charity when they themselves haven’t even done what justice requires? Where do they get off? Who do they think they are?
This might be what they heard:
“You posers have known for a thousand years how to prevent poverty. Now you’re all concerned? You’re saying this woman should have put a 300 denarius Band-aid on a cancer you’ve ignored for a millennium?
Well, here’s a news flash: you phonies are going to do nothing for my burial, and you’re also going to do nothing about eliminating poverty.”
What About Luke?
Why doesn’t Luke include anything like, “The poor will always be with you”? Luke was written as a history for the Greek converts. It was possible for them to be ignorant of Scripture teaching about how to treat the poor. Telling them that there would always be poverty could even have been taken as permission instead of criticism!
Note: Deuteronomy 15 says both that there need be no poor, and also that the poor will always be in the land. However, permanent poverty was never inevitable.
Update: We reviewed this post in Sunday School today (Jan 21, 2018). The pastor pointed out that only Luke’s account includes the parable showing that those who have been forgiven much, love much. The woman’s love gift is the thread that ties all four accounts together.