Home Features Will the Poor Always Be With Us? (Part 1) By Babatunde Olugboji

Will the Poor Always Be With Us? (Part 1) By Babatunde Olugboji

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Will the Poor Always Be With Us? (Part 1) By Babatunde Olugboji

Sometimes believers, exasperated with the news of poverty and exploitation around the world, try to deflect the news by reminding us that Jesus said, “The poor will always be with you.” (Matthew 26:11) This is often a way to stop the conversation about poverty; that because Jesus said it, then we shouldn’t be bothered about those who are poor.

Did Jesus say this? Yes. Does it mean that we shouldn’t bother about the poor? No. So, what does this troubling phrase mean? In scriptures, context is very important. Jesus’ statement comes in the context of a story that really was not directly related to the poor. It was a story about a woman whom Jesus said we would all remember as long as the gospel is proclaimed. 

Shortly before the Lord’s Supper and His arrest, the Bible talks about an unnamed woman, who poured expensive perfume from a jar onto Jesus’ head and worked the perfume reverently into his hair. Jesus knew that the woman was honoring Him by simulating the preparation of the dead for burial. She understood before most of the rest of Jesus’ followers that Jesus was heading for the cross.

The disciples, full of self-righteousness, criticized this act of devotion. What a waste of money, they said. The perfume could have been sold and given to the poor. Jesus’ reply was withering: Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to Me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. Jesus understood the meaning of her act and considered it a wonderful gift. Perhaps we are to remember her because of her insight into the future sacrifice of Jesus and her costly sacrifice to her Lord.

When Jesus said, the poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me, He was referencing Deuteronomy 15: 4. Only He and the woman seemed to understand that Jesus would not always be with the disciples.

There is an important lesson here for believers who are striving to help the poor and needy. Too many Christians are trying too hard to help the poor while others are not doing enough. In the name of the poor, some believers are putting themselves at risk, suffering burnout in the process.

This is not what the gospel preaches. This is not what Jesus asks us to do. Our devotion must be directed at Jesus, not the poor themselves. While we are certainly supposed to love our neighbor, especially our poor neighbor, we are to worship only Jesus. The woman understood this and the disciples did not. Getting your spirituality and worship right is key to sustaining your service to God and the poor.

Giving grain to starving children. Poor children keeping their hands up – asking for food.

Many believers take this statement of Jesus out of context. Looking deeply as to where Jesus came up with this statement reveals a rich understanding of 1) God, 2) His people and 3) the poor.

To be continued.

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