Originally posted on 2 October 2007, updated on 2 March 2010
Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matt 26:11). You’ve heard that verse before, but here’s something you should be told about it in church and probably won’t be.
So, should we try and even solve the problem of poverty? Some people have used this verse to say that it is impossible to eradicate poverty. Others have argued that it is not only possible, it is possible within a decade – you can read Jeffrey Sachs in his best selling book, “The End of Poverty” (buy it at Amazon.co.uk or Kalahari.net) or connect with the Global Poverty Project and see their presentation, “1.4 billion reasons”.
Who is right? If Jesus himself said we’d always have the poor then maybe we shouldn’t even try to get rid of poverty. Is this what Jesus meant? I don’t think so.
Well, Jesus was quoting from the Old Testament. And here is the context:
“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” (NIV)
So, at very least, Jesus had in mind that we SHOULD give to the poor. He deliberately used a well known scriptural phrase to ensure that his audience would have this particular command brought to their attention, without him needing to make the additional points explicit. This was certainly a style of teaching used often by Biblical writers. It is one of the reasons that interpreting Scripture can be quite difficult, and why we must be open to new understandings and deeper interpretations.
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