“The poor you will always have with you…” So said Jesus according to the accounts of three of the four Gospel writers (Matt. 26:11, Mark 14:7, and John 12:8). He said it in the context of someone objecting to a woman pouring perfume on his feet, when the value could have been given to the poor. (aside…Matthew says the disciples objected and doesn’t identify the woman; Mark identifies neither; John identifies the woman as Mary, sister of Lazarus & Martha, and the objector as Judas Iscariot).
Anyhow, I have run across this verse abused by conservative Christians, who were objecting to liberal Christians’ attempts to actually fight poverty, particularly using political means. The argument seems to go something to the effect that if Jesus said we’d never get rid of the poor, it’s foolish for the liberals to try. Of course that’s specious; Jesus finished that very sentence by saying “and whenever you want, you can do good for them.”
But I just discovered something that I had never noticed before. Jesus wasn’t just making a random commentary about life when he said “the poor you will always have with you.” I didn’t realize this, but he was quite probably referring to the Law of Moses…specifically Deut. 15:11:
For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’
Whoa, what’s that? Because there will always be poor, God always expects his people to be generous to the poor! Not because we can ever “cure” poverty, though the reset-buttons of the Sabbath Year and Jubilee would certainly reduce the generational effect of poverty (see Deut. 15:1 and Lev. 25). But no, the reason we are to treat the poor with kindness is in verse 10:
You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.
Hmm…how’s that for an economic stimulus plan?