We all know this story, which is also told in Mark 14 3-7.
This event happened in the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. The man whom Jesus had raised from the dead, and as a result many people believed in Jesus and became His followers.
When Mary washed Jesus' feet with the expensive perfume, we are told in this Gospel that Judas Iscariot, (the one who betrayed Jesus), said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?"
Jesus replied, predicting His death, "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."
Jesus was of course right in saying we will always have the poor with us. Two thousand years later and we still have poverty and starvation in the world whilst others seem to enjoy great luxuries.
It seems that whatever we do, or try to do, we cannot resolve this problem of poverty. I read somewhere that there is indeed enough food in this world to feed the whole population; but the food is in the wrong place. Plenty in one place and not enough in another; and it would take great efforts and cost to move the plenty we have in one place to the places who need it.
The problem of poverty seems too big and complicated for my limited brain-power to tackle and ... I am told ... whatever little I give to organised charities is diminished even further by administration costs, management salaries, advertising, transportation and so on, that by the time it reaches those who need it it becomes very little indeed.
So ... what am I to do with my limited donations to the poor? What did Jesus mean by them being always with us?
Let us look at what Jesus said in a wider context.
Could He perhaps be talking about something more than just material poverty?
Is He maybe reminding us that there will always be someone worse off than us? Someone who is poor in material things, someone poor in spirit, poor in health, poor in education or even poor in Faith.
This may be miss-interpreting Him perhaps but still worth considering.
We all have a responsibility towards those in poverty in one way or another. No matter how their poverty manifests itself.
We should always readily recognize our blessings and share them with those less well off than us.
If we are fortunate to be financially rich, we should give to those who have not.
If we are in good health, we should help those who are sick. Visit them at home or in hospital, and give a hand when needed.
If we are clever or intelligent we should be more tolerant towards those not as bright as us and help educate them where we can.
And if our Faith is strong, we should help and pray for those who falter and fail in their walk with the Lord.
So I suppose Jesus could be referring to poverty in the wider sense, as well as physical poverty of course, and such poverty, whatever it may be, will continue with us as a permanent reminder of our responsibilities towards others as well as towards God Himself.
And if any of us are not able for one reason or another to visit the sick, or teach the under-priviledged, or to serve at soup kitchens for the poor, there's something else very valuable they could do.
They could pray, pray and pray some more. Pray for the poor, the sick, the vulnerable, the under-priviledged. Pray for your relatives and friends. Mention them individually in your prayers and say something personal about the person in question.
Prayer is the greatest gift we can give and receive from one another.
And if you have time ... pray for me.