Home Features Will the Poor Always Be With Us? (Part 2) By Babatunde Olugboji

Will the Poor Always Be With Us? (Part 2) By Babatunde Olugboji

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Will the Poor Always Be With Us? (Part 2) By Babatunde Olugboji

Jesus’ seminal statement, “The poor will always be with you” in Matthew 26:11 often provokes strong reactions, sometimes seen as a license not to bother about the poor among us. Afterall, we will always have poor people and we should simply learn to live with them. 

Giving grain to poor

What we need to note is that when Jesus said this, He was referencing Deuteronomy 15. And that Scripture appears like a complete contradiction of the claim that the poor will always be with us. “There should be no poor among you. However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you.” (Deuteronomy 15:4) There is going to be enough to go round. This meant that the land that God was going to give Israel has more than enough for everyone. None should be poor because there will be enough. 

“For the Lord your God will bless you as He has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.” (Deuteronomy 15: 6) What the Bible is saying here is that there would be a surplus, a surplus that can be traded with the nations of the world.

As believers, we should believe this promise, if we believe that the loving, caring God, who created the world for humankind could never have intended a world of scarcity. The God whom we worship would never place humankind in a land that was unable to provide for life and life abundantly.

But there is a condition to the promise. “He will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.” (Deuteronomy 15: 4 – 5) The blessing and abundance of the Promised Land are dependent on the faithfulness of God’s people to God’s commands.

It is at this point that an apparent contradiction enters the text: “If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be open-handed and freely lend to him whatever he needs.” (Deuteronomy 15: 7 – 8)

How can this be? We’ve just been told that “there should be no poor among you,” and then we are given instructions as to what to do if there is a poor person. Was Moses confused? Is this a contradiction? I don’t think so.

There will be poor in Israel, not because God’s Promised Land failed to provide, but because human beings were not faithful to God and to each other. If there are poor people in the Promised Land, it is not because God failed or intended it, but because the people of God failed.

And so, it is in our world today. The reality is that there is enough food production across the globe today to feed every human being on the planet. Yet people are dying of hunger, and children are stunted because of chronic malnutrition. It is not that God’s planet cannot provide or sustain; it is that we do not follow God’s commands. When we neither love God nor love our neighbors, then some among us will suffer lack. But that is not the will of God.

To be continued.

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