When you start talking about poverty, a lot of Christians immediately think of the words of Jesus (from Matthew 26), “You will always have the poor among you…” There seems to be a sense of hopelessness to be able to do much about it. Kind of like we’re all just thinking, “Some people have a lot, some people don’t have much at all… that’s just the way it goes.” But is that the way it should go? Is that His “will on earth as it is in heaven?” Was Jesus telling His disciples to waste their resources on extravagant gifts for him (like the alabaster jar of expensive perfume that “could have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.”) and not worry about the poor, because, “Hey, they’re still going to be there tomorrow, right…”?
Who are we to argue with the very words of Jesus? But was He really saying what we seem to think He was saying? Have we maybe misunderstood because we don’t hear those words in their context? Or, even worse, are we guilty of twisting Jesus’ words to justify the pleasures to which we think we are entitled? Is there some latent greed within us driving us to hoard all we can get a hold of and let everyone else fend for themselves?
“You will always have the poor among you…” Jesus was scolding His indignant disciples who were mad about a woman’s “waste” and seeming lack of concern for the poor. But Jesus next words may surprise you: “but you will not always have me.” Jesus saw her act as an anointing in preparation for His burial. So, even though any money gained from the sale of the perfume could have gone to the poor, this woman had chosen something more important. What are we doing with our resources that is more important than ending extreme poverty?
Right now, I can’t help but think of the upcoming Christmas season. I remember coming across a statement at Advent Conspiracy’s site a couple years ago about how Americans spend about $450 Billion each year at Christmas to “celebrate the birth of Jesus”. Holy holly, that’s a lot of tinsel and presents… but at least some of it could have been a lot of food for the hungry or clean water for the thirsty. One of those two possibilities is pretty important to the man whose birth we celebrate, but if you want to see some “indignant disciples” today, just suggest to your church friends and family that you want them to donate whatever they would have spent on a gift for you instead of buying you that gift.
I don’t think it has to be one or the other (live comfortably or help those in need), but I can no longer pretend these are Jesus’ only words about how I should think of the poor. What about what He had to say about how those gathered in Matthew 25 had treated “the least of these”? What about all the talk of the minor prophets about justice and mercy for the widow and the orphan? The way we think and what we do about extreme poverty does matter to God. He loves those people, just as He loves us.
“But wait, Mike… what they really need is Jesus. We need to tell them about Jesus.” While I agree wholeheartedly with that statement, they also need food and shelter and water. Both needs are significant, and the church is equipped to address both sides of this issue. Watch this video and let me know what you think.