We regularly quote Jesus as saying that the poor will always be with you, writes Grant Campbell, our Chief Executive. Sadly many people have interpreted this as an excuse to accept poverty on their doorstep. Better theologians have taken time to understand the context in which Jesus spoke which was all about comparing Jesus’ immediate return to the ongoing struggle of poverty which continues to this day
Readers prepared to do a bit of digging will discover that much of Jesus’ words were quotations from the Old Testament. Jewish children would have memorised Scripture from an early age and would only have to hear a sentence to be able to complete the chapter by memory. When Jesus first said ‘You will always have the poor among you’ [i] his listeners would have in all certainty brought Deuteronomy 15 to mind. Read Deuteronomy 15 verses 1 through 11 and see if you recognise anything.
Too often we have separated our faith from our politics unless it impacted our rights to express our faith. However Deuteronomy 15 delivers an economic manifesto that makes Jeremy Corban look positively right wing.
In the Old Testament God gave the Israelites a clear definitive instruction regarding debt, loans and creditors. There was a national all-embracing seven year cycle of loans, where remaining debt, whether taken out on year one, or year six was cancelled on year seven. Today’s financial sector would mock such a naive practise, who in their right mind would lend out money that they we never see a return on? [ii] Yet this was deliberately designed to stop the rich taking advantage of the poor and for the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ to be reined in.
Sadly Deuteronomy acknowledges that many will not obey this practise and because of this… ‘there will always be some among you who are poor.’ [iii]
If we want to be serious about Scripture, serious about living the scandalously generous gospel, then it also requires us to be scandalously generous towards those caught up in poverty. When we do this, it will be under these circumstances that we will increasingly see the will of God being done here on earth as it is in Heaven. [iv] It is under these circumstances that we see the Kingdom of God advance into the Kingdom of darkness, and it will ultimately be under these circumstances that we can and will see a world without poverty.
[i] Mark 14:7, John 12:8
[ii] Deuteronomy 15:9
[iii] Deuteronomy 15:11
[iv] Matthew 6:10