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'The poor are always with us'

(9 Posts)
nobodyknowsimhere Sat 13-Jun-15 14:06:17

I'm atheist, but I've always wondered about this.

How do Christians interpret Jesus saying that 'the poor are always with us, but you won't always have me'? My understanding is that he'd just been anointed with expensive perfume, and his disciples were complaining that it could have been sold to raise money for the poor. How does this tie in with Christian ideas of charity? Doesn't it contradict what the church teaches about the virtues of poverty (eye of a needle, meek shall inherit the earth, Jesus being born in a stable etc).

Sorry, I'm not putting this very well and I'm really not trying to be goady, just very curious about how this scene fits in with the rest of the Bible.

LaurieFairyCake Sat 13-Jun-15 14:07:58

I think it's because the disciples were having a go at the woman who perfumed his feet and he was validating what she did.

nobodyknowsimhere Sat 13-Jun-15 14:17:09

Ah. So it was more about sticking up for the woman than a general statement about how resources should be used?

I wondered if it's what inspired/justified the use of gold and incense and so on in some churches - like God is set apart from the rest of mankind, so you'd perhaps prioritise feeding the poor over feeding yourself, but not over glorifying God?

Then again, perhaps he was just being nice grin

niminypiminy Sat 13-Jun-15 15:16:56

I've just checked the passage. It doesn't say the poor are always with us, meaning that poverty is just part of the natural and right order of things. It says 'you always have the poor with you'. And this was quite true: Jesus and the disciples were followed around by crowds of mainly poor people. When he entered Jerusalem he was welcomed by a vast crowd of people so poor that all they had to welcome him with was their own clothes put down on his path and branches cut from the trees.

So Jesus is assuming, I think, that of course the disciples will always have the poor with them because his ministry was particularly to the poor. The story of Lazarus and the rich man, the sermon on the mount and the sermon on the plain, and lots of other examples show that Jesus was speaking particularly to the poor and dispossessed and saying that the they were particularly blessed in the Kingdom of God.

What this is about, as LaurieFairyCake says is that he is trying to get through to the disciples that he won't be there much longer -- he's going to his death (and this passage occurs soon before the last supper). And he's trying to get through to them who he is. At this time the dead were annointed, and so were kings and leaders. He's trying to get them to see that he's the Messiah, and he's going to be killed.

Interestingly it's a woman who sees all this, not the disciples. In all the gospels women play an important part - they're the first witnesses to the resurrection.

Regarding gold and incense in churches, it's more a case of making the place where we worship God as beautiful as possible - we pay tribute to his glory with all the skill and beauty and best that we have. But not all Christian traditions use gold and incense - you won't find them in most protestant churches.

ReallyTired Sun 14-Jun-15 16:37:17

Jesus was defending the woman who had shown kindness towards him. He was showing that he was accepting her and her gifts.

sidonie1 Mon 13-Jul-15 13:57:22

Bit late to the discussion, but this is quite an interesting explanation:
m.youtube.com/watch?v=7uZV90fsoCY

springydaffs Fri 24-Jul-15 21:21:41

I always think it's linked to 'beauty is a joy forever' re beauty, of all kinds, feeds the soul. Of course, if it's a case of subsistence poverty -v- 'beauty' then a painting isn't going to feed a person who is starving. However, not many (in the west) are actually starving so there will always be a place for beauty.

The public art debate, basically.

annandale Fri 24-Jul-15 21:27:24

I know it's not as deep but I always think of this verse when there is an MN thread about some first-world problem and someone says 'how can you eat/buy/do that when others are starving' and it usually sounds like an attempt to make someone feel bad, rather than a genuine concern for the hungry.

Alternatively it shows that Jesus was a natural Conservative who felt that financial aid just trapped people in dependence grin

SeaMedows Fri 24-Jul-15 21:41:19

So Jesus is defending the woman who just poured out the perfume on his feet, when some of the disciples say that she should have sold the perfume for the poor.

When he says 'the poor are always with you', he's quoting a link from the Torah as all his disciples would have known (it goes on to say that therefore you always need to give to the poor) - so he's saying, 'yes, you're totally right, the Torah says that you should always give to the poor'' but that also they need to take time to listen to him and his message, because he has come to turn the written Torah into speech.

Right now, the disciples have the chance to listen to God's word made flesh. They need to be more like the woman with the perfume, and recognise that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, rather than being so focused on obeying the rules that you don't recognise the man in front of you.

I think it's like someone who always does the right thing, but never does it with any joy - like someone who always gives to charity because they know its right, but doesn't really care what the charity does.

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