Sometimes I’m really sorry Jesus said the words recorded in John 12:8 that I read in my devotional time this morning:
“You will always have the poor among you,
but you will not always have me.”
How I wish he had skipped those first eight words.
All my life I’ve heard people use those first eight words as a rationale to shrug their shoulders and do nothing to solve the problem of world poverty. “There will always be poor people; Jesus said so. It’s just a fact of the world and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
If Jesus had only not said those eight little words, where would we be? Would his church have done the work to eliminate injustice and lift up every human to a life of dignity?
I doubt it.
I doubt it because I’ve never used those eight words of Jesus not to act, but often I have not acted. I have shrugged my shoulders, professed the problem to be overwhelming, unsolvable, and retreated back in to enjoying my own life.
I have wanted what my money can buy me. I have gotten discouraged when calling my politician about injustice that requires changes in the law and I am ignored. I have been too busy to care. Or too busy clearing email from my ever-expanding inbox to stop and read the plea from this or that nonprofit, let alone taking time to make a donation or a phone call.
I totally understand that we cannot support every charitable cause out there. I get that we may not be able to call our representatives and senators every day about every issue.
And I even get that until the time when God sets all things right, there will likely be poverty somewhere on earth. That doesn’t absolve me of my responsibility to make a difference. To help one person. To lend my voice toward changing an unjust law. To make uncomfortable changes in my lifestyle to help others have a better life.
The same Jesus who said those eight words, also told us in Matthew 25 that his sheep would be known by their actions in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison, inviting in the stranger.
The same Jesus in Matthew 23 pronounced woe on the pharisees for neglecting justice, mercy and faithfulness.
He condemned the pharisees for being “full of greed and self-indulgence.” He condemned me.
But he also empowers me by his Spirit to give generously, if I allow him to.
He empowers me to call on those who represent me in government to follow the instructions for “kings” in Proverbs 31:8–9:
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
The nation of Israel was judge for idolatry, yes, but it was also judged for not caring for the poor, for not “doing justice,” for manipulating the law to enrich themselves while impoverishing others. Read through the prophets. They speak.
And so I will dig the email out of the trash and call my representative and senators today. I will ask God where he wants me to give money and do it till it hurts. I will look for ways to volunteer my time, committing to it and following through. (Saying I’ll do something is not as good as doing it.) I will do something. Today.
What about you? Do you get weary of all the misery, the begging letters, the poverty?
Would you join me in asking God to break our hearts, to compel us to pull out our wallets, to propel us into the fight for just laws and fair treatment?
We cannot do it all—but we each can do something.
And the poor may always be with us. Perhaps through them God can see if our hearts are attuned to his, sensing his exquisite love for those around us and around the world, and therefore giving us the opportunity to show his love through our voices and our actions.