The Poor You Will Always Have With You?

30/06/11 | Posted by MattPage

In the last month, the Church of England's two most senior bishops have both spoken out on the issue of poverty in the UK. Rowan Williams' piece in the New Statesman grabbed all the headlines a few weeks ago, but last week also saw the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, tackling the issue in Friday's Guardian. In it he argued the need for us to stand together and recognise that individuals have value regardless of the size of their income.

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Of course there are people out there who criticise church leaders even when they agree with what they are saying. One passage that is often used on such occasions is Matt 26:6-13 where Jesus says “the poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me”. So it is argued that Jesus was more concerned with his own well being than with that of the poor.

Leaving aside the fact that Jesus’ statement has yet to be proved wrong, such a reading is far more concerned with discrediting Jesus than trying to understand him.

For one thing it would seem totally at odds with his own meagre quality of life (“Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” - Matt 8:20), his own teaching (“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” - Luke 4:18); and the testimony of his earliest followers (e.g. ” though he was rich, for your sake he became poor ” - 2 Corinthians 8:9).

More importantly ripping this verse out of context certainly doesn’t do it justice. Jesus is anointed by a woman who is then criticised by the men present, so Jesus makes the statement in her defence. The details vary significantly between the four different accounts in the gospels, but taken as a whole a consistent picture begins to emerge. The woman, who Luke tells us was looked down on for her lifestyle, sees an opportunity that the holy men and Jesus’ closest followers seem to miss: the chance to do something kind for Jesus. Smashing the social etiquette of the day she interrupts the (male only?) meal and soothes him with a valuable liquid. The other men pour scorn on her - not only is she a lowly woman, but a sinful one at that - and criticise her because her show of kindness was not only freely given, but extravagant.

Jesus, however, refuses to join in with the verbal lynching, and sticks up for the women. Had she sold her perfume and given the money to the poor would poverty have ended? Yet by acting with kindness and compassion she was demonstrating the very values that are so vital if poverty is truly to be tackled.

For those determined to find fault, Jesus’ words may seem self-centred. But, in reality, he is sticking up for someone who was despised for her poor social standing, and highlighting how it’s the values she exhibited, rather than the fake outrage of those judging her, that can make a difference to this still all too unequal world. 


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Now, finally we’re getting somewhere. The bit in the Bible where Jesus chased out the money changers (bankers) is the best thing that Jesus ever did (allegedly, assuming he existed). And it was the only time he demonstrated physical violence (allegedly). This is more relevant today than all the other junk in the Bible - which to me just constitute ancient desert scribblings.
Unearned wealth and treating money like a commodity - now I can relate to that being a sin. What we need is for governments to stop borrowing money from private banks. And banks have to stop lending money they don’t have. As the Book of Proverbs correctly states “The borrower is servant to the lender.” Unelected banks and big business control our democratically elected government so they can turn us into debt-slaves. Debt is nothing more than a claim on future human labour. It has to stop.

#1. By Spectrox War on August 04, 2011




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