One of the frequently quoted Scripture references I’ve heard is “the poor will always be with you.” Most of the time this is a quote from Jesus:
The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. Matthew 26:11
However, like many things Jesus said when referring to what we call Old Testament references, His audience knew the complete reference:
There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. Deuteronomy 15:11
These are two different sermons. The first reference to Matthew’s Gospel and the words of Jesus demand that we remember the context in which it was said and complete the sentence. Just three verses later, Matthew records the betrayal by Judas.
The second reference, the one I’m focusing on today, is from an ancient section of Scripture that outlines the requirements for the year of canceling debts for the Israelites. The rules Moses provides come from a posture of abundance. The Israelites have just been given the Promised Land with great wealth.
there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, Deuteronomy 15:4
God’s people, the chosen ones, should be rich. They should have all they could ever want.
Imagine for a moment that you have everything you need and then some. Yours is a life of abundance. When you look around, there is nothing you need, but you see others who are poor. How do you respond? Moses tells us how we are not to react as a clue: “I command you to be openhanded.” Even though God has provided more than enough, some will be poor. Our response is to be openhanded, to give generously. To trust that God who provided our riches in the first place will continue to be true to His word.
When Jesus used the same phrase, “the poor you will always have,” I believe He did so with this in mind. And I believe His disciples were completely aware of the context.
Sadly, there are those in our community that do not have enough to meet basic needs and have to reach out for help. May we learn to be openhanded and trust God will fill any gaps. May we have faith to reach out to those in need without stigma or prejudice.
If we, as followers of Christ, do nothing about helping the poor, who will?