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Lenten Reflections: The Poor Will Always Be With You?

Tohomina_washing_pots
Tohomina Akter washes pots and dishes in a pond near her home on the morning of Thursday, April 19, 2012, in Char Baria village, Barisal, Bangladesh. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

Tuesday, March 19

By Inez Torres Davis

"The poor will always be with you."

These words have bothered me for much of my Christian life.  To me, it infers God’s limits as well as our own. It is possible for us Christians to miss the mark, but is it possible for God to be unable to get us to be inspired enough to end poverty? Of course, these are idle thoughts, not intended to be idolatrous, but reflective of the struggle I have had for decades with the seeming inevitability of  hunger and poverty. The poor will always be with you?

Years ago, while at Bible college, I was inspired as I sat and read this passage. I gained perspective by remembering the edicts:  Who is speaking? Who is being spoken to? What is the context in which these words were said?

Jesus was speaking to Judas.

40-for-1000_logo_blogJudas was the fellow who handled the finances (what finances there were) attached to Jesus and his entourage.  The suggestion may be made that Judas’ desire to overturn Rome and establish the new and improved Kingdom of Israel was as pointed as his ability to make sure cash was available to him for his handling of the expenses. This was likely not a system of economic cooperation he used, so it is legitimate to wonder if Judas would have really given that money to feed the hungry had he been given it.

The poor will always be with you, (Judas).

So, maybe, just maybe, Jesus was not addressing the inevitability of poverty as much as he was describing poverty as it relates to greedy folk? The kind of people who want more, more, more!  More money. More power or control.  People like Judas, who was able to exchange Jesus for some idea of grandeur and thirty pieces of silver.

At least 80 percent of humanity lives on less than $10 a day. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children, age 5 and under, die each day due to poverty. And the number would be much higher if older children were included in that figure. These dear children “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world.”  Today, 2.6 billion people around the world do not have access to adequate sanitation and about 885 million people do not have access to clean water. 

So, the children die from treatable diseases without an anointing. But the money for the ointment that could have been pressed to their skin went somewhere else.  It did not feed their bellies or eliminate their suffering or prepare them for burial, it went elsewhere.  Where did it go? 

The poor will always be with you, (Judas).

Inez Torres Davis is director for justice at Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

 

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