In the streets of my city

May 26, 2014 by

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An elderly woman sleeps nearby the Dunkin’ Donuts where I stop each morning to get a cup of coffee. A sunburned old man with a scraggly grey beard and tattered clothing greets me at the door of Dunkin’ Donuts asking for change for coffee and a sandwich. Another brown woman sits wrapped in a blanket leaning her back against a trash bin, hand extended, begging. The other aged black man strides and rages, he’s small and wiry, fists raised in the air yelling at someone only he can see. A middle aged white man stands erect, holding up a sign “Lost job. Have 2 kids to feed. Please help.”

Every morning as I exit the train I see the same man, the same woman, the same words, “Miss can I have a dollar?” And at 8:30 a.m. one morning while I walked and watched, four men sat in a semi-circle in the underground transportation terminal passing a whiskey bottle between them. One paused, looked at the ground, vomited on the shiny terminal floor and then took another swig.

These are the streets of my city. Where I experience daily assaults on my heart, pangs that ache. It just isn’t supposed to be this way. God?

Jesus said the poor will always be with you. And they are. Poor people are everywhere. Even when we don’t see them, they are there. However, the twist to those verses relayed by Matthew, Mark and John was that Jesus told his disciples that they could help the poor whenever they wanted to, but at that moment in time the disciples would be wise to follow the lead of a particular woman who was using her precious and pricey perfume to bathe him and prepare him for his burial.

Was this woman poor herself? If so, where did she get the extravagant perfume? Why did she use it to wash and anoint Jesus? What did she know that the disciples didn’t know?

While Jesus was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” — Mark 14: 3-9

Theologians ponder this passage and have varying viewpoints but here I see that the poor and marginalized are not looked upon with pity by Jesus. They are viewed compassionately. Women were not central in society and I’m guessing this woman was probably poor; however she also had impact or agency. This woman perhaps intuitively knew that something was going to happen to Jesus. He would die. And she prepared him for that death. Who is being helped in that moment? I suggest the poor and marginalized know something that others don’t. They prepare, incite, and warn. The desperately poor know a portion of life unknown to others. If we are wise we pay attention, learn, and heed. If we are not wise, we dismiss the poor, and miss someone or something vital. What are we being prepared for, and by whom? Watch and pray for the Kingdom is near.

Calenthia Dowdy is a cultural anthropologist and youth ministry educator in Philadelphia. Alongside teaching, speaking and writing on cities, race, gender and faith, she serves as the director of faith initiatives at an HIV/AIDS service organization. She is a member of Anabaptist Kingdom Builders and affiliated with Germantown Mennonite Church. She blogs with two other women at Theological Curves, where this first appeared. 

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