The Poor You Will Always Have With You
This is day 3 of my 40 Day Lenten blog.
"The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me." John 12:8.
Jesus said these words because disciples had complained about Mary of Bethany pouring out a fortune's worth of oil on Jesus' feet. What a waste of money they grumbled. After all, couldn't the money have been better used to help the poor? Isn't helping others the entire point of Christianity? No, it's not.
This is one of the great misconceptions of Christianity. Because God is love and Christ is compassionate, and because He commands us to love others, to serve others, and help others, the belief has arisen that Christ's whole point was for us to work to end suffering. But this gets it completely wrong.
God can end suffering at any point He wants to. Remember that Jesus did not heal everyone who came to Him. Why He chooses to heal those He chooses we do not know. We know that having faith is important, but we also know that those with the greatest faith are often those who suffer the most.
Yes, Christ wants us to help the poor and the needy, but it's not for their sake. Christ doesn't need us to feed the poor. He's quite capable of doing that Himself. He wants us to feed the poor and to help the needy for ourselves, not for them. He wants us to have compassionate hearts. He wants us to see more than ourselves. He wants us to turn our back on our own selfishness. He wants us to sacrifice our own comfort and material wants for others. He wants us to notice our own gluttony while others starve, not so that we will feed them, but so we will realize how much more we love carnal pleasures and material desires.
Don't misunderstand, Christ DOES want us to help the poor and the needy, but not for its own sake. He wants us to do it because we love the poor and needy. He wants us to do it because we'd rather suffer ourselves than see them suffer. Just like a mother would gladly take the suffering of her child, and just like Christ took the suffering for all of us, He wants us to be willing suffer ourselves so that others do not have to. Because that is true love.
"There is no greater love than a man who will lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13. That is the kind of love Christ has for us. That is the kind of love He wants us to have for others. Of course, we will not all have the opportunity like He did to physically die for others. We are not all St. Maximilian Kolbe the Franciscan friar and priest who was imprisoned in Auschwitz and voluntarily took the place of another man who was to be starved to death. But can't we lay down our lives without actually dying? Didn't Mother Teresa lay down her life by living in poverty in Calcutta and helping those less fortunate? If we give the food we were going to eat ourselves or the money we were going to spend on ourselves to someone else out of love and compassion and a spirit of self-sacrifice are we not laying down at least part of our lives?
Only God can end poverty. Only God can end suffering. And one day He will. No human leader and no government can end suffering no matter how hard they try. I doubt God is impressed with government programs that relieve us of the responsibility of caring for those in need. Laying the responsibility of feeding the poor on the "super rich" while we refuse to sacrifice even one morning's cup of our overpriced coffee to feed someone down on his luck is not "the Christian thing to do."
Christianity is not about helping the needy. It's about loving God and giving ourselves to Him so completely that we care little for ourselves. It's about loving God so completely that His love shines through us onto those who need His love most of all. The poor we will always have with us, so there is no point in trying to end poverty. Instead let us love God, and then we will see Him in the faces of the needy. When that happens we will willingly pour ourselves out to help them.
Today's prayer: Lord help me to love You as much as You deserve. Help me to love others the way You love them. Help me to pour myself out for others in a spirit of self-sacrifice, not for my glory, but for Yours. Amen.
R.C. VanLandingham lives in Florida with his wife and kids.He is the author of several books including the Christian fantasy books Peter Puckett & The Amulet of Eternity, Peter Puckett & the Enchanted Chalice, and Magdalene Hope & the Elves of Evermore.