by Rev. Andrew Taylor-Troutman
Read Matthew 26:6–13.
There’s a scene in the baseball movie, Moneyball, where Brad Pitt (as the general manager of a professional baseball team) challenges a room full of veteran scouts by asking repeatedly, “What’s the problem?” (Be aware there is explicit language is this clip.) Pitt’s insight is that their solutions are inadequate because they have not grasped the fundamental nature of the struggle at hand. They need new ways of thinking.
Notice in our text that the disciples were angered by the woman’s actions (Mt 26:8). Those who were closest to Jesus couldn’t identify the problem either. Perhaps like veteran baseball scouts, many of us are likewise preferential to “what we’ve always done.” We are irritated by new ways of thinking and even threatened by the inclusion of other people. There is nothing wrong with tradition per se; but what prevents us from achieving new insight?
This question prompts reflection upon verse eleven and the famous (or infamous) maxim about “always having the poor among you.” Does this imply a grudging acknowledgement, even callous acceptance, of the reality of poverty? Does this mean that we should simply stop thinking about the problem? I don’t think so. Consider the full citation from which this verse is drawn: “Since there will always be the poor on the earth, I command you: ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land’” (Deut 15:11). The ongoing presence of those in need does not justify a lack of response; rather the exact opposite–it gives us a mandate to act. We need to think differently and the example of others can be our guide.
One scholar, Eugene Boring, characterizes this text in Matthew as the story of the “insightful” woman: she brilliantly illustrates a new way of looking at the problems of society. She recognizes that Jesus is worthy to be praised, even though he will be executed. She realizes that the glory of the God is manifested in death upon the cross–and, just as importantly, she acts upon her awareness. Some, like the disciples, might question whether she solved the problem; but the point, I think, is that she became a living sacrifice thereby transforming her understanding (Ro 12:1–2).
As we seek insight into the fundamental nature of society’s problems and their solutions for a new time, may we remember that simple acts of grace can open the door to the richness of worship. Instead of fear and anger, may we learn from those who give of themselves. And may the right questions inspire faithful actions.
Rev. Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of New Dublin Presbyterian Church and author of two books, Take My Hand: A Theological Memoir and Parables of Parenthood. He blogs and can be reached at www.takemyhandmemoir.com