A sinful woman once knelt before Jesus and anointed him with a jar of expensive perfume. The apostles saw the act as wasteful, because the woman could have sold the perfume and given the money to the poor.
Jesus tells his disciples to shut up, because the woman had done a beautiful thing.
He also tells them, “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” (Mathew 26:11, ESV)
The poor will always be with us.
This isn’t something Jesus just made up on the spot, it comes from Deuteronomy 15. It’s a long passage that I suggest reading.
But to summarize: Moses outlines God’s economic plan, a plan that hinges on regular forgiveness of debts.
The passage first says, “There will be no poor among you.” (v. 4)
Then it says, “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor…” (v. 7)
And finally concludes, “There will never cease to be poor in the land.” (v. 11)
Just to recap — In God’s economic plan, there will always be poor people.
How is that even possible?
Because of me.
And a planet covered with other selfish people.
This forces me to ask the question: Is the Church called to end poverty?
I mean, if the poor will always be with us, what’s the point?
Maybe these are the wrong questions. Maybe we should ask this:
How does Jesus address poverty?
A few times in the gospels, Jesus tells people to sell everything they have and give the money to the poor. But these instances aren’t really about poor people. The generosity is meant to benefit the one giving everything away.
There are other times when Jesus criticizes the lack of care given to the poor. But again, he isn’t critiquing a social system that produces poverty. Instead, he is angry that the people of God don’t know how to care for the poor.
I think God, Moses, and Jesus are right (fancy that).
There will always be poor people.
I also think they are right when they say:
“…You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and poor, in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:11b)
“Is not this the fast that I choose… to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:1 and 7, ESV)
“Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:42)
Does God like it when his children live in utter destitution?
Is every Christian called to change social structures and economic systems?
No. Though I’m thankful for those who have received such a calling.
What every single Christian can do is learn to be generous to those who are needy right now.
We’ll never run out of opportunities.
What every single Christian can do is stop thinking so much about money, and affirm the humanity of a poor person who can only love Jesus by emptying an expensive bottle of perfume.
What we can do is simply obey the word of God and give to someone who has a need.