CHED MYERS, in "’Behold, the Treasure of the Church’"(September-October 1999), notes that Jesus’ statement "For the poor will always be with you" is often misunderstood and used to justify the existence of the poor. I agree. Let me suggest that one of the reasons for this misunderstanding is that the context of the quote is not considered.
Complaints were being made that the expensive ointment poured on Jesus’ head was a waste. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.
Jesus, in defending the donor, is saying, in effect, my time here is short. My death and burial are imminent. My need to be cared about is immediate. This woman’s need to make this generous expression of love and devotion is now. Tomorrow may be too late. But poor people still will be here tomorrow. Spikenard can be traded for cash for them then. This woman (and all of you) will have many opportunities to care for the poor in the near future.
In short, Jesus was making a statement about timeliness. His words have little to do with how we are to think of, relate to, or treat the poor. He speaks to these issues elsewhere.