26:6 Now while Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, 26:7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of expensive perfumed oil, and she poured it on his head as he was at the table. 26:8 When the disciples saw this, they became indignant and said, “Why this waste? 26:9 It could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor!” 26:10 When Jesus learned of this, he said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a good service for me. 26:11 For you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me! 26:12 When she poured this oil on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 26:13 I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” \~ NET Bible
The portion in bold has fascinated me for some time. I take it as a truth not only because Jesus said it, but because poverty appears to be a natural side-effect of human society. As much as I would like to believe in the Earth of the future as portrayed in Star Trek, I agree that poverty is going to always be a challenge for us. I think the persistence of poverty has at least four facets:
- The relative standards of poverty change, so that "poverty" as a social construct will always exist, in spite of increasing wealth and quality of life.
- Some people exploit society for their own gain with the result that some people are pushed into poverty.
- Some people make choices (for whatever reasons, including ignorance) which lead to themselves and their dependents living in poverty.
- Natural disasters and changes will uproot normal human activity and cause poverty.
I'm pretty sure that this is an inadequate list (especially since I started with two and came up with two more in a few minutes). The point is that poverty comes from a number of sources, and the nature of those sources means there is no end in sight. The other thing I am sure about is that Christians are to help those who are in poverty. This is made clear in all quadrants of the New Testament, and in the Old Testament as well. Jesus healed and cast out demons, and taught about the good Samaritan. James taught that "be warmed and filled" is not good enough. Paul took collections from more affluent churches to help struggling Christians in Judea. The Mosaic law made provisions for people to glean the fields after harvests. There really is no argument against helping the poor to be found from the standpoint of Christian ethics. The argument I have seen, and the one which fascinates me, is the argument over how best to help impoverished people. I see a few basic modes of helping, from striving for systemic political change to handing a few coins to a beggar. I hope in forthcoming posts to reflect on some of the basic paradigms for helping the poor and try to figure out how I as a Christian can do my best to help poor people.