The Poor You Will Always Have With You

“The poor you will always have with you…” – Jesus recorded in Matthew 26:11

There has been much misinterpretation regarding the verse about the poor as spoken by Jesus when he said “The poor you will always have with you.”  What is misunderstood about it is not the truth of the matter – that there will always be people who are poor – but that this is used as an excuse to not help and serve the poor.  I constantly hear Christians say since Jesus said the poor will always be with us then there is no use “helping” the poor, as if it is a waste of time.

What is misunderstood about this particular verse is that Jesus was NOT saying don’t do anything to help the poor because it is fruitless and hopeless because they will always be with us.  Rather he was speaking of God’s command to the Hebrews through Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy (15:11),when God says to Moses:

For there will never cease to be poor people in the land; that is why I [Yahweh] am commanding you, ‘You must willingly open your hand to your afflicted and poor brother in your land.’

It is precisely because the poor will always dwell in the land that we are commanded, as followers of Jesus, to be willing to help and serve and be with the afflicted and poor among us.

And in case there is any doubt as to the scope of Jesus’ Mission on earth regarding the poor and oppressed let us look to the Gospel of Luke where Jesus ‘announced’ his very mission – his Messianic Proclamation if you will – reading in the synagogue from the Book of Isaiah (61:1-2) where Jesus reads:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me because [God] has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  [God] has sent me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  [Jesus] then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.  And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him.  [Jesus] began by saying to them, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled. 

My frustration is with people who say they love God but in truth and reality show little or none of that love to those who are poor, afflicted, oppressed (or addicted).  In fact, one of the most pervasive beliefs in American Christianity is a “blame the victim” mentality – one that holds the poor to a higher standard of morality than the rich are held to.  Most people I speak with regarding the poor and service to them hold a belief that the poor deserve their lot, are lazy and shiftless, or hold to the tenet, “that’s just the way things are…”

I disagree and so do the Scriptures and more importantly so does Jesus.

How can we say we love God when sometimes we fail to show some of that love to our neighbors?  And Jesus clearly spoke to the question, “just who is my neighbor?” when he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan: our neighbor is anyone, anyone we see in need.  These are tough words to hear in this busy, me-first, stressed out, hurry up, Microwave Society.

Yes, it is true, we may always have the poor ‘with’ us for reasons of divine and human doing, I could go on about that forever.  But maybe, just maybe,  if we stepped out of comfort zones and took God at his word we’d begin to realized there is no “us” and “them” – there is only US.  If we began to live like that, by God’s grace, then maybe the world would truly start to see and believe in God’s amazing love as it is being lived out through the followers of Jesus.

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