The Cutting Floor: Poor Always?

By Pastor Nate Powell
The process of preaching is both a blessing and a challenge. I want to make sure I understand the text clearly. I want to make sure I communicate it accurately. And occasionally, in the process, I have to leave some things unaddressed in the text, for the sake of time, conciseness and clarity.
This last week was one of those weeks, when there was a topic/verse I really wanted to address, but there wasn’t time to chase that rabbit. Occasionally, when I believe it’s warranted, I want to use this article in the ACC Extra to address one of those rabbits that are worth chasing.
The verses in question are John 12:7-8. In the passage, we see Mary approaching Jesus and anointing his feet with this expensive Nard ointment. She wipes his feet with her hair and the room is filled with the fragrance. As the skeptical Judas notes, this gift was over the top. It was enough that it could have been sold for a year’s wages. His cold heart pretend to care about the poor, saying that he wanted to sell the ointment for those purposes. But the text makes clear that Judas only wanted to pillage the money for himself, because he was a dishonest thief.
Jesus then responds to Judas in verses 7-8: “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” In saying this, he makes it obvious that she’s not using the full amount of this ointment on him now, but only a portion. His implication is that the remainder of this ointment is to be saved for Jesus burial, as this nard was one of the common ointments or spices used to care for the body of the dead after their burial. In fact, you’ll remember that just over a week later, it’s very likely that they are taking this very ointment to the tomb to care for Jesus body after his burial.
But listen to what Jesus says especially in verse 8: “The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” In that phrase, Jesus is speaking of course to the fact that he will not always physically here with his disciples. While he is here with them physically, it is time for those who recognize him as Savior and Lord to worship him. But I really want to clue in on that previous phrase: “the poor you will always have with you.”
I think these words of Jesus communicate three important truths about poverty that we should make note of.
We cannot hope to fully eliminate poverty: There seems to be a general idea that gets promoted in political circles today that poverty is like a disease, and that if we could just put enough money and resources into it, then it would go away. Jesus makes it clear that this is not the case, and that there will always be the poor among us. Why is that? In order to know it, we have to actually know poor people and know that there are a myriad of reasons why they are poor. Some of those reasons are out of their control, and some of them are of their own doing. Some of those who are poor are poor because of the poor decisions of a parent or family member, lack of education, being stuck in low wage jobs, losing value of the dollar due to cost increases and inflation. Others are poor because of wasteful decisions and unwise lifestyle choices, or thru money wasted in substance abuse or addictions. Often, there is a mixture of these factors in play. But one thing that Jesus is noting is that as long as there is sin in the world, there will be poor people in the world. Their needs will not go away. They will be here until his second coming. Don’t fall for ideas that try to communicate the possibility of eliminating poverty. From now til the end of time, people will have bad things done to them, and they will make unwise decisions with their resources.
We can identify & meet the needs of the poor: At the same time, Jesus’ words here are not a discouragement from seeking to meet the needs of the poor. In fact, a desire to help the poor is an indication of a compassionate heart, which is exactly what God desires for his followers and what believers in both the Old and New Testaments are supposed to be doing. Consider:
• Proverbs 22:9: Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.
• Psalm 140:12: I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy.
• James 1:27: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
• 1 John 3:17: But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?
There are tons more verses we could note, but we simply want to note that God’s heart is for the poor, for providing for their needs. To ignore the poor would be to act in an unchristian manner and to ignore God’s will and desires for us. So, it is good for the church to keep her eyes open to the needs of the poor. To those ends, we as individual Christians and collectively as a church ought to meet needs as we can. Regularly at our church, we get calls from those with needs. We occasionally also have members who point out needs, and we seek to meet a need when it is appropriate & wise. As you know of a need, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Pastor Nate.
We can have dedicated generosity toward meeting those needs: One thing that is also implied from Jesus’ statement is that this type of generosity can and should be directed toward the poor. As we noted Mary’s great generosity yesterday, so we encourage generous gifts to aid the ministry of the church, and the needs of those around us. As God has been generous to you and has blessed you, so you are to be a blessing in what you can give. One expression of that dedicated generosity in our church has been in giving to our SOS fund (which stands for SomeOne Special). A few years ago, Pastor Corey Miller established this area of giving so that we would have some funds on-hand to deal specifically with the needs of people as they arose. Those funds are cared for by our finance team and are overseen toward expenditure by the office staff (Janell & I). In just the past week, we met needs for different families by aiding with fuel and food costs, and aid with housing costs for a family in need. We cannot meet every need, but we can meet some. If you know of a need, let us know. If you feel so led to give to SOS, please give.
As Jesus taught us, we will always have the poor. But we can do something as God’s compassion moves us. As we can, let’s meet a need and seek to help lead them to a better place of God’s provision and blessing, in Jesus’ name.
Serving Jesus as we serve the least of these,
Pastor Nate