Sometimes you have to wonder about Jesus.
In Matthew 26:11, He says
The poor you will always have with you
That automatically sets up divisiveness, a split between the “you” that He was talking to, and “the poor”, those people over there who are needy.
If we fall into financial ruin, lose a job or have a big setback, that moves us from the “you” group, the non-poor, over into the other group. Strange for Jesus to set up a split like this. Isn’t He the God of love?
Since you ask, yes, He is the God of love. And Jesus is not setting up any “us vs. them” divisions. He is making a commentary about bell curves, if you will. Any random grouping of anything will tend to shape itself into the common bell curve. Sometimes you are on the low end, and get labeled “poor”, and sometimes you are in the middle or upper end, labeled “you”. If this is a group of billionaires, there will still be a poorest billionaire stuck down in the “poor” category. Is he/she poor? Among that group, yes. In reality, no.
Look at a different sample: people who receive microloans. The first microloan was for $27 – less than some of us pay for an entree. The average microloan is $200. The amount of money some people carry in their wallet, or drop on concert tickets. And that’s life-changing for the recipients (the entrepreneurs, not TicketMaster). Even among these, where our monthly entertainment budget could mean the difference between life and death to them, there is a range from the poorest of the poor to the “wealthiest” of the poor.
And yet, this is not what Jesus was talking about. It’s true – Jesus always spoke the truth – and yet there’s more to the statement. Think for a moment about the widow who gave two mites in the offering. The value of the mite was about six minutes’ worth of work. Two of them came to twenty percent of an hour’s wages. At ten bucks an hour, that is two bucks. At the time, the face value was far less. For us, two bucks is nothing. If it’s missing from our wallets, we may not even notice it. Two bucks is the taxes on a store purchase. It’s a couple cans of pop on a hot day. It’s the pretzels and candy that get us through a long afternoon. For her, though, Jesus says that it is “all that she had to live on“.
So this is dumb, really. The old lady had a couple bucks and threw it all away, in the offering?
No. This is smart, really. The widow (Luke says she is poor, not how old she is) has a couple bucks, and is giving it as a free-will offering to what she loves. Matthew 6:19-21 says
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
So she was doing the wise thing. She was rich in heaven, which is eternal.
This forces the question: who then was poor? It was the “rich” people, putting their big money into the offering. Jesus called them out on it by praising the widow:
Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them
So the poor who we always have with us is true in the physical sense – some people have more money than others. And it is true in the spiritual sense – had the church fallen down right then, the widow would have gone to Heaven. The others? The Bible doesn’t say explicitly, but it leads me to think that they would have missed the glory train.
To circle around: we can measure people in all sorts of ways, along multiple bell curves. Some won’t have much money. Some won’t have much God in their lives.
Guess which one is more important. Guess who the needy people really are.