The Lord’s Commentary on Poverty in 2014
“The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them anytime you want. But you will not always have me.” (Mark 14:7 NIV)
As Jesus sat at banquet at the home of Simon the leper in Bethany, a woman anointed his head with a flask full of spikenard (very costly fragrant oil). The disciples present were outraged at this obviously blatant act of extravagance and condemned her action as wasteful. Jesus defended the woman’s benevolence as a, “Good Work.” Then without the slightest doubt, he says, “The poor you will always have with you…”
In a word…Ouch! While it might seem somewhat casual, even cavalier, Jesus looked across time immemorial and prophesied, you will always have poor/needy people that need help. No matter what page we turn to in the annals of history, we will find the wretched poor in every society. As always, Jesus was dead on point.
Is it that people want to be poor? Do some people have a poor mentality or is it somehow more noble to be without in a climate of greed and ill-gotten gain? Why are the poor overlooked and sometimes even blamed for not having enough and being a burden on society? Where do poor people come from? Is poverty a generational curse that some people can never escape? Two thousand years after Jesus walked upon the earth, the question remains what shall we do about the poor?
Fifty years ago this week, Lyndon B. Johnson in his State of the Union address declared an unconditional war on poverty in America and set out to enact legislation like Medicare and Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) aka Food Stamps, Pell Grants and Head Start. The unconditional war on poverty has been waged on many fronts and yet today’s economic disparity is wider than before Johnson’s declaration of war.
The wars cease fire has been signaled by the cutting of food stamp allotments to low income families, decrease of unemployment benefits and refusal to raise the minimum wage for our nation’s working poor. So our Lord’s chilling economic forecast was not essentially about the poor. It was really about the continued disenfranchisement and perpetual confinement of poor people to third class citizenship in a climate of prosperity. Jesus was speaking to our attitude about poverty.
When Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” in 1967, he sighted what he called the, “Triple Evils of Poverty, Racism and Militarism.” He said, “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it. The time has come for an all-out world war against poverty. The well-off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation.”
Lord help us to have mercy and compassion on the broken, weak, vulnerable and poor so that our living will not be in vain, so that we may reign with you some day.
Dr. George B. Jackson
Chairman Martin Luther King Social Action Committee
January 9, 2014