Did Jesus Justify Poverty? “You will always have the poor among you.” (Part 1)

The last few weeks we have visited and served people who live on the old Tijuana dump. Houses made out of scraps of wood. Fences built out of the garbage that has been thrown away, a broken table, an old box spring, and other thrown away items. Seeing how people live like this can feel overwhelming and make us feel a sense of helplessness looking for answers to some hard questions.

  • Why is there poverty?
  • How long have these people been living this way?
  • Why do generations of families continue to live in poverty?
  • Why can’t they just work their way out of their situations?
  • What is a long term fix to issues of poverty?
  • Didn’t Jesus say we will always have people living in poverty?

In Matthew 26:11 Jesus states,” The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”

On the surface, it appears as though Jesus justified poverty.

In the story surrounding this quote, we see a woman anointing Jesus with expensive perfume. As this woman was anointing Jesus, the disciples were angry that this woman had “wasted” this money on perfume and instead the money should have been given to the poor. Jesus’ response is a response that I believe we have either consciously on unconsciously seen as justification that there should always be poverty. On the surface, it appears that Jesus is justifying poverty and that it is ok for us not to do anything or feel a sense of urgency to help. I know I have. But, is this what Jesus was saying?

I don’t think so. 

But if we don’t investigate what Jesus is really communicating here we may miss what God is calling us to do. When we dig deeper we realize that Jesus is not giving justification to poverty, He is actually calling for its removal. When Jesus says, “the poor you will always have with you,” the Jewish people knew He was quoting from Deuteronomy 15:1-11. In these verses, God had commanded Israel that every seven years  debts where to be canceled. He has commanded them to be openhanded and freely lend to anyone in need. Verse 4 God states, “there need be no poor people among you.”  Meaning, we have the power to prevent poverty. God goes on in vs. 10, “Give generously to them…” God’s plan with Israel, and with us, is that there should be no poor people. We are commanded to not be “hard-hearted or tight-fisted” but to be “open handed and freely lend them whatever they need.”

The first church in Acts took this seriously. Acts 2:44-45, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” The first church made sure everyone had what they needed to live and survive. They gave open-handed and freely. The giver was not afraid that they would not have enough for themselves. They trusted what God said in Deuteronomy 15:10 “Give generously to them and to and so sow without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.”

We live in a different time than when Deuteronomy was written and even when the first church started. Canceling debts every seven years is not feasible on a grand level. I also understand that there are layers to the problem of poverty, systematic, governmental, social, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Yet, Jesus has called us to eradicate poverty on every level. To give freely, generously, and open-handed knowing, and trustingly, that we cannot out give God. Do we believe that God will bless us and take care of us if we give sacrificially?

This feels overwhelming because there is so much poverty in our world. Instead of looking at the many, let us focus on a few. Who do you know (one family, one person) living in poverty that needs help?

To fight against poverty, our giving must expand beyond just sending money because often times the reason we don’t help or feel the urgency is because of our proximity to the poor. (To be continued)

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