Should We Try to End Poverty?

A sinful woman once knelt before Jesus and anointed him with a jar of expensive perfume.

The apostles saw the act as wasteful, because the woman could have sold the perfume and given the money to the poor.

Jesus tells his disciples to shut up, because the woman had done a beautiful thing.

He also tells them, “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” (Mathew 26:11, ESV)

The poor will always be with us.

As in, always.

This isn’t something Jesus just made up on the spot. It actually has it’s roots in Deuteronomy chapter 15. It’s a long passage that I suggest reading.

Basically, Moses outlines God’s economic plan, a plan that hinges on regular forgiveness of debts.

The passage first says, “There will be no poor among you.” 

Then it says, “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor…”

And finally concludes, “There will never cease to be poor in the land.”

Just to recap — In God’s economic plan, there will always be poor people.

How is that even possible?

Because of me.

And you.

And a planet covered with other selfish people.

But it forces me to ask the question: Is the Church called to end poverty?

I mean, if the poor will always be with us, what’s the point?

Maybe these are the wrong questions. Maybe we should ask this:

How does Jesus address poverty?

A few times in the gospels, Jesus tells people to sell everything they have and give the money to the poor. But these instances aren’t really about poor people. The generosity is meant to benefit the one giving everything away.

There are other times when Jesus criticizes the lack of care given to the poor. But again, he isn’t critiquing a social system that produces poverty. Instead, he is angry that the people of God don’t know how to care for the poor.

I think God, Moses, and Jesus are right (fancy that).

There will always be poor people.

I also think they are right when they say:

…You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and poor, in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:11b)

Is not this the fast that I choose… to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:1 and 7, ESV)

Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:42)

Does God like it when his children live in utter destitution?

No.

Is every Christian called to change social structures and economic systems?

No.

Though I’m thankful for those who have received such a calling.

What every single Christian can do is learn to be generous to those in need right now.

We’ll never run out of opportunities.

What every single Christian can do is stop thinking so much about money, and affirm the humanity of a poor person who can only love Jesus by emptying an expensive bottle of perfume.

What we can do is simply obey the word of God and give to someone who has a need.

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2 thoughts on “Should We Try to End Poverty?

  1. I really appreciate this post. Thank you for making these observations. Your post actually is about opening up our perspective and aligning it more with God’s will. Your question, and for the most part your handling of it, has become mine too in recent years. I especially loved your statement to stop thinking about money!

    When we inaugurated the Fat Beggars School of Prophets, we acknowledged a role for money, but figured it surely would be minor. Apparently Jesus had some financial support – mostly from women? – and paid taxes with coins harvested from fish and so forth, but he never held a fundraiser! And when the pinnacle of your ministry is to embrace public execution, it’s not like they are going to charge you some enormous fee to get crucified! No. Something else entirely is happening here, and it does not LOOK like what most of my church, church friends, and ministry organizations are doing or even contemplating. It has to do with bearing God’s image and with worship, and perhaps the overlap of the two. That is where God’s call, mission, and most powerful interaction with humanity lead!

    It seems impotent to eyes fixated on money.

    The one angle I don’t find in your post (not that it is diminished necessarily) is that we American Christians, I think, have a desire to see people become “independent”, “self-sufficient”, “autonomous” and so forth, and that these things then become the ever-disappearing, mirage-like goals that very few homeless/poor folk ever achieve, much less imagine. But we American Christians look at the poor, care for them, and think this is what they NEED somehow. Then they will be like us, hopefully, and then we can quit worrying about them.

    We rarely put that picture together that completely, but I think it looms behind our actions and desires generally. And meanwhile, it short-changes any sense of Shepherds and sheep or of the centrality of worship.

    I read Tony Campolo’s book, The Kingdom of God is a Party, and he inspired me to want to party (let us use that almost synonymously with worship) but he also introduced me to the biblical idea that when Israel collected the tithes, they did not spend the money on building programs, infrastructure, social programs or any of a hundred things we might think of as serving God WISELY. No. They took one tenth of the national GDP and threw a party! That looks like a waste to a society that thinks about money, where the airlines are taking one olive out of every inflight salad and finding they can save a million dollars a year! No. God’s people leave the corners of the field unharvested – which is like allowing too many olives into each salad! These otherwise good ideas and projects get swallowed up in their own accounting and accountability. But a party, a party FOR all to join, discards such concerns.

    So, I really resonate with your post. And I appreciate it because you have far more succinctly stated things that for me have been somewhat sloppy thinking. And I would only add to the discussion that your thoughts are confrontational of another kind of view that is prevalent, but also not always clearly stated.

    Thanx for this.

    I am blessed.

    X

  2. Do you have an email that I might contact you with?

    Ron Fortune

    On Mon, Oct 24, 2016 at 7:26 AM, Preston Searcy wrote:

    > prestonsearcy posted: “A sinful woman once knelt before Jesus and anointed > him with a jar of expensive perfume. The apostles saw the act as wasteful, > because the woman could have sold the perfume and given the money to the > poor. Jesus tells his disciples to shut up, because t” >

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