St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1789


Office hours: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 10:30 am - 1 pm

The Anglican Parish of St. Mary Magdalene

2950 Laurel Street at West 14th Avenue

Vancouver, BC, V5Z  3T3

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Sunday Eucharist

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Wednesday 7:00 pm

Diocese of New Westminster Anglican Church of Canada

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April 7th Lent 5, 2019     John Marsh

Isaiah 43:16=12; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

Perhaps we can comment on the statement that hits all of us…

Well, if not all, withdrawing my assumptions, my projections, the phrase which hits me, disturbing my spirit…

“You always have the poor with you”

I have heard this often, usually used in a manner that suggests a certain fatalism…

I have heard this statement personally, socially, culturally, politically…

“You always have the poor with you”

So, as the argument goes, as the insinuation suggests, if the poor are with us always, relax, reorient, set your mind on higher things, encourage those less well off, those not included, to set their mind on eternal things, things after the present moment…

Thus, sets in a benign neglect, a laissez faire attitude, the acceptance of things as they are, but…

If this is good news, the way things are, then…

I pray you listen…

…First Nation children would still be in residential schools, Jim Crow and segregation laws would still be operative, women would not vote, saying nothing about those poor, those without land, those beyond the pale, gay rights would have no right, some would still be interred, refused, excluded, those other, those forever other, would attract no notice…

That such is not the case suggests that something else is going on, that a laissez faire, passive acceptance of the status quo may not be a determinative feature of life…

Something else may be astir – perhaps work that has been undertaken, work beckoning…

This is not to suggest that we solved all problems, that we have arrived in the promised land….

Racism still exists, as does sexism, homophobia, income inequity, poverty, corruption, the oppressive presence of dominating systems and, dare I say, the abysmal avoidance of climate change with its effects everywhere felt…

Work remains…

That work remains suggests that there is a certain truth within the phrase, you always have the poor with you

If works remains, a question remains - how will we respond?

Will we embrace fatalism?

Will we move the goal posts, delaying response until later, usually much later, projecting response

into an idealized afterlife? (After life, interesting! But, is not after life too little too late?)

Will we respond to the poor materially here and now?

Will we be poor enough in spirit to respond to those excluded, those rejected, those not heard, those unseen?

How will we respond?

Pausing to make a theological point, god needs our response to be god, we need god’s prompting to be human! ¹  

For those smelling heresy, let me ease your concern – it is…

It is Christian heresy…

Yet – I pray you listen – while heretical to the doctrinaire and the neo-orthodox, is it not faithful, faithful to calls but barely heard within the statement, “You always have the poor with you…”, faithful to those poor, expressive of a hope to endeavour to be poor in spirit, to be with those poor?

Pressing further, is it possible that something is astir, haunting the statement, “You always have the poor with you…”?

In the Greek - the gospels. come down to us in Greek – the present indicative form, ‘you always have the poor with you’, matches the imperative form, ‘have or keep the poor with you’.

So, perhaps, the statement should be read not simply as a statement of reality but as a command, an imperative calling for a discipleship response, a response of those poor in spirit, responding to those poor in the world…

In the end, perhaps in the beginning, it is a question of calls as the call calls, requiring response, not response to a questionnaire, certainly not response delayed…²

 ¹ See John Caputo, The Insistence of God; A Theology of Perhaps p.162

 ² Ibid, p.171