After an act of incredible love and worship, the disciples of Jesus questioned their Lord and Master on why He did not rebuke this blatant waste of expensive perfume by a woman who clearly did not grasp the “big picture.” In response Jesus said:
The poor you will always have with you…but you will not always have me.” Matthew 26:11 NIV
Captured in this statement rests a challenge for the devoted. Did Jesus suggest that the plight of the poor stood as a universal reality that could not and would not be change? Has the plight of the poor become our accepted reality?
I fear we miss understand Jesus if we suggest that He stood indifferent to the poor. Jesus demonstrated time and time again His open engagement with the poor and His gracious invitation to them to join Him among the ranks of His Kingdom citizens on earth even as they are in heaven.
Sincere, intellectually honest followers of Jesus must embrace the plight of the poor as part of their Kingdom assignment if they seriously intend to follow their Lord.
In 2002, President Jimmy Carter upon receiving the Noble Peach Prize said:
“At the beginning of this new millennium I was asked to discuss, here in Oslo, the greatest challenge that the world faces. Among all the possible choices, I decided that the most serious and universal problem is the growing chasm between the richest and poorest people on the earth. Citizens in the ten wealthiest countries are now seventy-five times richer than those who live in the ten poorest ones, and the separation is increasing every year, not only between nations but also within them.”
I have lived long enough to be an eye-witness to this reality. Since moving to El Paso, I face this reality every single day as I drive to work. From my office I can look out and see a third world reality just across the river. I wonder how high must we build the wall?
Yes ago, I traveled to Rio. We arrived just days before an international conference was to be held in that great South American city. On our way from the airport to the heart of city we traveled by some of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in the world. Our guide noted the huge welcoming billboards that had been erected along the road. Brazilian leaders strategically placed these billboards to hide from the foreign dignitaries the plight of the poor. In the vain philosophy of: “if you don’t see them–they don’t exist.”
English author and critic of modern society John Berger wrote:
“The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitted…but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.”
A few days ago, I sat down with a father with tears in his eyes who shared with me that his children were hungry and he did not have any food to feed them. He was not a stranger standing on a street corner with a cardboard sign. I worshiped with him each week. Immediately I knew I must help and did, but deep inside I wrestle with the affluence of my life and the plight of my friend. Helping did not ease my conscience–in some ways–it only intensified my emotions.
In a world where Jesus’ words still ring true…”the poor you will always have with you”–we must choose to keep our eyes and hearts open. We cannot numb ourselves. We must not build walls to hide the reality.
I cannot end this disparity alone, but I can do something.
Rick Warren is quoted saying that on his tombstone he wants these simple words:
“At least he tried”
Jesus calls us to His side with these words:
“Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
In a world of brokenness: do good and let your life shine especially to the least among us.