When Jesus said, “You will always have the poor with you.” He was not giving an excuse or being overwhelmed. Many people read this like it’s Jesus’ commentary on how we should care for the poor.
“Aware of this, Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.'”(Matt 26:10-13 NIV)
It’s not a commentary on caring for the poor, it’s about the timing of His death. His death is coming soon, and He won’t always be around. Look at how Mark tells it.
‘The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.’(Mark 14:7-8 NIV)
A little different, isn’t it. You can help the poor any time, but you can only annoint me for burial within the next few days.
The section Jesus is quoting here is pretty interesting. It’s from Deuteronomy 15.
‘Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 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.’(Deut 15:10-11 NIV)
It’s like Jesus is saying, ‘you should always give to the poor, and you always have the opportunity to, but right now I’m preparing for burial, and she knows it because she believes the things I’ve said about how I’m going to die, and she’s mourning and celebrating all at once’
That’s why Judas immediately left. Partially because the expensive ointment was wasted, but here’s Jesus talking about dying again! Where is that ever going to get us!?
A really wild thing is that 10 verses back, God says that there shouldn’t even be any poor people, because there will be enough money to go around. In ancient Hebrew culture, the most degrading thing you could do for a person was to give them money. That’s why it’s so disgraceful to beg throughout the bible, and beggars are ashamed of what they do. The next tier up from that is to give someone money for doing some pitiful thing. To make up a silly job as an excuse to give them a handout. The best way, Hebrew culture wise, was to employ someone with some real task. Give them a real job to do and then pay them a fair wage for it.
I’ve developed a love for Goodwill lately, because they do this. They hire all kinds of people, and they accommodate them however they can to help them work in their shop. Some people may say there are restaurants EVERYWHERE that are hiring all the time. The truth is that if you’re homeless and don’t have an address for the application, they won’t hire you. There is no shower at McDonald’s, so if you don’t have water at your house, you can’t clean up for work. As the obstacles pile up, the motivation to work atrophies. After 3-4 days, discouragement wins out and hope is lost. I’ve talked to several people that have fallen into this spiral, and I’ve tiptoed around it’s edge a lot.
The poor you will always have with you, so be generous to them.