Bible Studies
Written by Jim Jordal   
Friday, 05 December 2008


By Jim Jordal

Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it upon His head as He reclined at table. But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, "What is the point of this waste? For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor." But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, "Why do you bother this woman? For she has done a good deed to me. For the poor you have with you always; but you do not always have Me. For when she poured the perfume upon My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done shall also be spoken in memory of her."

Matthew 26:6-13 (NASB, emphasis mine)

How often have you heard the above phrase (in bold face) about the poor always being with us quoted in an attempt to minimize the human impact of poverty or to draw attention away from anyone who claims we can and must permanently end involuntary poverty? We take solace from these phrases, since they justify our often deeply held belief that the poor deserve their lowly position because of their many personal failings. Oh, yes, everyone agrees that poverty is debilitating and certainly not to be desired. But we also believe that we can do nothing about it other than to share a strictly limited amount of our wealth, since we know that the overall condition of the poor is far beyond our ability to change.

As so often happened, the apostles misunderstood why Jesus accepted the expensive ointment from the adoring woman. They complained that it wasn’t right for this woman to lavish valuable ointment on the body of Jesus when it could better have been sold and the money given to the poor. At least their priorities appeared to be right--they placed people ahead of things, and had the good sense to avoid ostentation and waste while helping the poor. But they didn’t comprehend that Jesus had greater things in mind. He was thinking of the long-term spiritual effects of her act, not the short-term economic consequences for the poor.

In response to their concern, Jesus uttered the well-known words, "For the poor you have with you always." But what did Jesus mean when He countered their opinion with this comment? Did He mean that poverty was an endemic condition never to be cured? Was he saying that charity did no good since some people would always remain poor? Was He teaching that poverty and its awful effects should be beyond the concern of His followers?

Actually, what He said had nothing directly to do with poverty, but everything to do with the attention they should pay to His imminent crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. Coming as soon as it did after His teaching about the sheep and goats (Matt. 25:31-46), He certainly could not have been discounting ministry to the poor. What Jesus did was to attempt to focus their attention on worship of Himself and the higher values of what He was soon to experience and what would be the everlasting effects of His sacrifice.

So why do we persist in quoting Jesus to the effect that poverty will always be with us? Perhaps it’s because we know so little about Jubilee economic teachings of Scripture that we really believe solutions to poverty are unrealistic and even impossible. Perhaps it’s because of our lack of faith. Or maybe it’s because we believe what conservative economists and media personalities say concerning personal and family dysfunction as a major cause of poverty. But in reality I suspect that it’s mostly because we do not wish to surrender any of the benefits of our affluent life styles so that those without can have more of this world’s goods.

Involuntary human poverty can and will be eradicated when we come under the rule of Jesus Christ in His earthly kingdom. Our role now can be to learn as much as possible about God’s economic law, and to awaken ourselves and others to the dire consequences of a world financial and economic system increasingly operated to enrich the powerful and further impoverish the poor and vulnerable. We can oppose this egregious evil, we can advocate for good economic policy and legislation, and we can continue to deal with poverty on the local level dealt by doing just what God said: "Freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in the land."

Last Updated ( Friday, 05 December 2008 )