“You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” This particular and perhaps familiar Gospel passage has been quoted and misquoted, applied and misapplied by so many over the centuries, literally ever since it was first transcribed. This, among many other factors, is exactly why it is simply not enough to know what the Bible says, but what it means. You see, on a first glance, the phrase about always having the poor seems almost fatalistic, as if to suggest that there is really no use to address the issue of poverty because we will never rid our society from it, but that is so far from the meaning.
Jesus was actually quoting another well-known Biblical passage from Deuteronomy which sets the context of the poor and our response in a very different context: “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be … For the poor you will always have with you in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” (Deuteronomy 15:7-11) Thus, realistically and with the greatest of authentic interpretation, the Lord Jesus is enthusiastically begging us to be “open-handed” toward the poor among us. Holy Week begins for most of us with this deep and emotional call to be aware of those who suffer in our own circles, perhaps right in front of us and to respond quickly, deeply and readily.
In this most awesome week, we must see our own roles to feed the hungry and lift up the poor among us. In the New Testament humble beginnings of the Church, there were no needy persons among them. Everyone shared and cared for each other. Poverty, even as we can describe it today, was eradicated in their midst. That was the natural outcome of taking Jesus’ teachings seriously and to heart. Just imagine that for a moment: a world where all are free to love and serve! This is not some nimble-headed utopia but the goal of being a follower of Christ right here, right now. The fulfillment of Lent, Holy Week and all that Jesus taught and lived and died for is now about to realized and celebrated. Spend today reflecting on those in your own homes and friendships who really need you. Pray for all those who are unhappy in this life and beg Jesus to live deeply within them and in you. He has the ultimate endorsement from Heaven: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, Upon whom I have put my Spirit.”
“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” Saint Augustine