I enjoyed working as a dishwasher in my teens, and still do. Nowadays I’m often the first one of our family to get out of bed, and use my time alone in the kitchen for finishing up any dishes not done the night before, as well as cleaning the counters & stove top, emptying the dishwasher, putting things away, etc. It’s relaxing; and a meditative, creative time & activity for me. (I’ve written many a sermon or blog post in my head while washing dishes, including this one!)
Some part of me – as with most people, I suspect – really enjoys making things neat, clean, and well ordered. When all is done, there’s a sense of accomplishment. We’re ready for a new day. All is right with the world.
My wife and I have this little private joke, which seems to happen at least once a week: As I’m finishing with my morning kitchen cleanup and putting away the last dish – excited at the prospect of having everything DONE in just a few more seconds, I’ll hear a light “thunk” behind me and turn around to see her placing a dirty glass next to the sink. She chuckles and walks away. I chuckle, too. Sometimes I’ll be a little dramatic: “Oh God, NOT AGAIN!!!”
All in good fun.
But then again, our oft-repeated morning vignette is an affirmation of the nature of the world: there’s always more to do. It’s a reminder to both of us that things change all the time, making for even more stuff to do. Our work is never done. Our little morning ritual is a reminder that the world can never be perfect.
This is one reason why I find Jesus’ words “You will always have the poor with you” to be words of hope, not a declaration of the futility of our human attempts to end suffering and pain. In Mark 14:7, Jesus is telling us that perfecting the world is something we can never achieve in our own strength, try as we might.
In fact, I am convinced that if the world were to be perfected, then there would be nothing more to do: we would be done, time would [literally] end.
So, we know that there will always be one more dirty glass to wash, somewhere.
This is not a bad thing: that the world is neither complete nor perfect simply means that there are always opportunities to do more, always opportunities to learn more, always opportunities to be more useful, always more opportunities.
For me, seeing that dirty glass on the counter next to the sink says that yes, I have more work to do. But more importantly, it tells me that the purposes for which God put me here on earth are not done. The imperfection we see all around us in the world means we have a future, and it is a good one. Yes, we are working towards a perfection that we can never achieve, and which we will never see in this life. But, God sees it, and God knows we will get there: but that will be in God’s time – not in our own.
One last thought: that full line of scripture reads: “For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me.”
At this point in Mark, Jesus has been anointed with Nard (spikenard) from an alabaster vase by a woman. Yes, he is rebuking those who are criticizing her (and him), because they saw this as was a waste of money: money that could have been used to help the poor. But, he says that what this woman has done is to prepare for his immanent death.
In this passage, we are taught that ultimately, Jesus could not stay with us here on earth forever. His presence made things too easy. If he remained, we would never learn to walk on our own, proclaim the Gospel out of our own mouths, or do the work of the Kingdom as we have been called to do. He had to die so that we could live, so that our lives would have purpose, so that all those glasses could be washed by us and made ready for the uses God has planned for them. We could not rely on his perfection to do things for us.
That last dirty glass is part of God’s plan, as are we. It means there is always hope, and that we are still always a part of God’s plan, and that we always will be.
Copyright (c) 2018, Allen Vander Meulen III.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.