Guy King wrote: “According to Matthew, Mark and John, Jesus said we shall always have the poor among us, so it seems to have been alright with him.”
King doesn’t understand Jesus’ statement about the poor, nor the Bible’s approach to poverty.
The Bible contains almost 2,000 references to poverty and economic fairness. According to the Oxford Companion to the Bible, the Bible teaches that the fundamental responsibility of rulers is to help those unable to help themselves. The Bible portrays those who oppress the poor as wicked.
Jesus’ statement has often been misused by churchgoers and others as an excuse not to do anything about the poor. According to The Dictionary of Biblical Tradition, most Christian theologians say the statement should be read in light of the Hebrew admonition to always assist the poor.
Jim Wallis, an evangelical Christian who leads the Sojourners movement, devotes a chapter to Jesus’ statement in his book, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (2005). Wallis says his audiences only remember the first part of the verse, not the part about being kind to the poor, and miss the whole context and meaning.
Wallis points out Jesus doesn’t make his comment while eating with business executives or top politicians. Jesus says it while sharing bread with a leper, a social outcast.
Instead of being someone who remains physically distant from the poor and writes them off, Wallis says Jesus was in effect telling his followers: “Look, you will always have the poor with you because you are my disciples.... So, you will always be near the poor, you’ll always be with them, and you will always have the opportunity to share with them.”