The poor you will always have with you. So screw ’em.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 March

Matthew 26.11.

It’s kinda obvious when people quote the following verse out of context: They always drop the second part of the sentence. ’Cause the context is found in that part.

Matthew 26.11 KJV
For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.

Although I have often heard plenty of Christianists quote this verse in its entirety, just to make it look like they’re quoting it in context… then quickly say, “And the part I wanna focus on are those words ‘Ye have the poor always with you,’ and never mention the other clause again. It’ll only get in their way.

The point they wanna make with it? They wanna justify doing nothing for the poor.

Because there are poor people in the world. Somebody wants to help them. Give to them. Create jobs for them. Create charities to help them. Create social programs to take care of them. Enlist their aid, whether through private donations or tax dollars… and they don’t wanna help.

Now how does a Christian, the recipient of God’s infinite grace, who’s been warned by Jesus to not be stingy towards others because of how much grace we’ve been given, Mt 18.21-35 justify refusing the needy? Simple: This out-of-context verse. “Jesus said, ‘Ye have the poor always with you.’ This means we’re never gonna successfully get rid of poverty. There are always gonna be needy people. It’s a fool’s errand to fight it. Do you believe Jesus or don’t you?”

Oho, so it’s a matter of whether we believe Jesus, is it?

As if Jesus’s words were meant to condemn the poor to stay in their caste and never leave it. Because wealth must be some kind of signifier as to whether God deems them worthy, deserving, or righteous. Some lazy people sorta need to stuffer from poverty. Hence they’ve been perpetually condemned with it. And don’t you do anything for ’em. They gotta learn to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps; you’ll teach ’em to be dependent on you and they’ll never stop begging you for help; they’ll interpret your generosity as weakness and take you for granted; they’ll drain the fruits of your labor and give nothing back, like parasites. “If you give a mouse a cookie” and all that.

I don’t need to go on. You can get more of that hateful thinking from any Ayn Rand novel. Certainly not from Christ Jesus.

False generosity.

Those who quote this passage rarely, but sometimes, state Jesus said it to rebuke false piety. People were talking about giving to the poor; Jesus pointed out they would always had poor.

It’s an oversimplification which distorts Jesus’s point in saying this. Best we go to the scriptures instead.

Matthew 26.6-13 KWL
6 While Jesus was at Bethany at Simon the Leper’s house,
7 a woman came to Jesus with an alabaster box of ointment; very expensive.
As he reclined at table, she poured it on his head.
8 Seeing this, the students were outraged, saying, “Why’d she waste it?—
9 this was able to be sold for a lot of money, and given to the poor.”
10 Knowing this, Jesus told them, “Why are you giving the woman trouble? She did me a good deed.
11 You always have poor people with you. You don’t always have me.
12 She who poured this ointment on my body, did so to prepare me for burial.
13 Amen! I promise you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed,
round the world, what she did will be spoken of as a memorial to her.”

Mark expands Jesus’s quote a little bit:

Mark 14.7 KWL
“You always have poor people with you: You can do them good deeds whenever you want.
You don’t always have me.”

This passage isn’t about giving to the poor. Nor is it about not giving to the poor.

The reason the students brought up the poor was a hypocritical, rubbish excuse. The students were outraged because they perceived money was wasted. Value was lost. That was worth three hundred denarii! Mk 14.5 —assuming the students were any good at assessing the value of perfume. Still, imagine what you coulda bought with that money.

Well… not as much as you’d assume. Commentators figure a denarius was a day’s wage, ’cause in one of Jesus’s stories, it’s how much this one dude offered to pay day laborers. Mt 20.2 But with today’s silver prices, a denarius is worth about $2.15. So the woman’s perfume was worth about $644. Still mighty expensive perfume, though.

Ostensibly the complaint was $644 could’ve done the poor some good. But the kids only brought up the poor because they didn’t dare admit they were offended on behalf of Mammon. The woman had just made a mockery of materialism and greed. “This could’ve gone to the poor!” was how they disguised their idolatry as liberal guilt.

Don’t think I’m letting conservatives off the hook. Their typical reaction, “Well it was her ointment; she can use it as she likes” conceals the fact they likewise think she was a fool for wasting her wealth.

But Jesus’s comment about the poor in no way suggests the poor are a lost cause, so let’s do nothing for them. On the contrary: His statement, “You can do them good deeds whenever you want,” Mk 14.7 reflects his true attitude. Don’t use them to disguise your worship of wealth. Don’t use them to make people feel guilty about conspicuous consumption. But at the same time: There are needy people in the world. Help them.

As Moses put it—repeating certain words ’cause he really did mean ’em—

Deuteronomy 15.7-11 KWL
7 “If there’s a needy person among you—one of your brothers, at one of your gates
in your land which your LORD God gives you,
don’t close your mind. Don’t shut your hand to your needy brother.
8 Open, open your hand to him. Promise, promise whatever he needs, whatever he lacks.
9 Watch yourself, lest there’s this useless thought in your mind,
saying, “Sabbath year is near—the year debts are canceled,”
and you eye your needy brother warily, and won’t give to him.
He’ll call to the LORD against you. It’s a sin for you.
10 Give, give to him. Don’t do evil in your mind in giving to him.
For this reason, your LORD God blesses all your work, all your hand creates.
11 There will never stop being needy people in the land. Therefore I command you,
saying: Open, open your hand to your brother, to your poor, to your needy, in your land.”

Jesus taught us to give to those who ask of us. Lk 6.30 And of course the greedy will seek loopholes in that command. Those who value their wealth more than people, will always try to find ways to give as little as possible, and justify their stinginess with all sorts of Christian-sounding words. (Like “stewardship.”) But the Lord knows what’s really going on in there. In the end they’ll be judged for pursuing their comfort, rather than God’s kingdom.

And for twisting the compassionate words which came from Jesus’s mouth.