You will always have the poor among you?

Jesus was in the home of Simon the leper. A woman came with a jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head. Judas Iscariot objected and said the perfume, worth a years wages, could have been sold and the money given to the poor.

Jesus replied with a verse that is often misquoted, or quoted out of context.

“You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me”
(John 12 verse 8)

Some questions

  • Was Jesus just talking to Judas and those present, or was he making a prophetic statement for all time?
  • Is it true that Jesus will not always be with us?
  • Is it correct to take the first phrase as an all-time declaration and yet contextualise the  last phrase, “oh well he really meant was …”?

It seems clear to me that he was talking to his disciples who had had the privilege of knowing Jesus as a man. They were soon going to lose him as a man though he also promised to be with them always! (Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:20)

We must be very careful to interpret the whole verse in the context that it was given. It we took the whole verse as a prophetic statement, then we could not claim to know Jesus now!

So the disciples must make the most of the time that they had remaining with him. They would have plenty of other opportunities to remember the poor! Certainly all their lives the needs of the poor would concern them.

Sometimes this verse is used as an excuse not to care for the poor and certainly not to seek to abolish poverty in our communities. Let us use another example.

Poverty and Slavery

Slavery has existed for most of human history. It still exists in some forms but nowhere in the world is it legal. In Jesus’ day the Roman Empire depended on slavery.

The bible neither condemns or condones slavery. It accepts it as a fact of life for the era it was written in. Paul tells slaves to obey their masters. But the underlying principles of righteousness and justice meant that eventually men like Wilberforce said it was no longer acceptable. When the mass of ordinary people agreed, the politicians had to take action and slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire. So when Paul tells slaves to obey their masters is he making a prophetic statement for all time?

The end of Poverty

I believe that Jesus was talking to his disciples and not making an all-time prophetic statement. We should not use a single verse as a a disincentive or excuse for inaction. Extreme poverty should be, and can be, eliminated.

It is time to abolish poverty, or at least extreme poverty. We need to right the injustice of people being trapped without sufficient means of feeding their families and seeing their children dying of diseases which are quite preventable and curable.

Author: George Dowdell

I was the founder of Karuna Action (formerly Kingscare) and was the director for 24 years. I have now handed control over to younger people but continue as an advisor and trustee. My passion is to see extreme poverty eliminated and to see justice for the powerless.

3 thoughts on “You will always have the poor among you?”

  1. There are 27,000,000 slaves today, thats more than at any other time in history. I found that out and was SHOCKED.
    You will always have the poor. So far, thats proved true. But the word doesn’t say neglect your neighbour. On the contrary; “LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS I HAVE LOVED YOU”. That love led to Christ’s torture and death. Even to the point of bieng made sin, thats when He knew He was forsaken. Father God and sin cannot co-exist. Could any one love to that level, or even know how deep and far reaching that agape love is?
    What we can do is use the powerful love the Father has placed within us, and reach out for His glory and see Father God make what we give go a long way.
    Remember Father loves a cheerful giver, not like a pharisee, but give until it hurts, and makes your nerves twitch. I do, and now I know joy deeper that I thought possible.
    We were COMMANDED. to love our enemies, neighbours, one another, and above all, Father God. The word teaches that if we dont follow His commands, we dont love Him. Now there’s food for thought.
    YHWH bless you. I love you.
    Graham. x


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