I’m reading Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution, and I found an interesting discussion on the words of Jesus “You will always have the poor among you.”
Almost every time we talk with affluent folks about God’s will to end poverty, someone says, “But didn’t Jesus say, ‘The poor will always be with you’?” Many of the people who whip out this verse have grown quite insulated and distant from the poor and feel defensive. I usually gently ask, “Where are the poor? Are the poor among us?” The answer is usually a clear negatory. As we study the Scriptures, we see how many texts we have misread, contextualized, and exegeted to hear what we want to. Like this one about the poor being among us, which Jesus says in the home of a leper and after a poor marginalized woman anoints his feet with perfume. The poor were all around him. Far from saying in defeat that we should not worry about the poor, since they will always be among us, Jesus is pointing the church to her true identity—she is to live close to those who suffer. The poor will always be among us, because the empire will always produce poor people, and they will find a home in the church, a citizenship in the kingdom of God, where the “hungry are filled with good things and the rich sent away empty.
I heard that Gandhi, when people asked him if he was a Christian, would often reply, “Ask the poor. They will tell you who the Christians are.”
Perhaps it is acceptable to flip the statement of Jesus concerning the poor from a statement into a question. Jesus said, “The poor you will always have among you.”
Let’s ask–Are you always among the poor?