Dan Popp
When Jesus didn't help the poor
By Dan Popp
November 28, 2013

Does need constitute a demand?

Awhile back I wrote about the time when Jesus refused to feed a group of hungry people. There are only two possible explanations for that: Either the Lord didn't care whether those folks went hungry, or there's something worse than hunger. Now I'd like to look at an incident in which Jesus rebuked disciples who wanted to give to the poor. If Jesus cares about the poor, the only remaining conclusion is that poverty is not an absolute demand on the resources of others.

Here's Mark's account of that event:
    While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head. But some were indignantly remarking to one another, "Why has this perfume been wasted? For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor." And they were scolding her. But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me. She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial. Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her." (Mark 14:3-9 – Read parallel accounts in Matthew 26:6-13 and John 12:1-8)
A barbarian will say to you, if you press him, that the reason we must seize the possessions of producers is because, if allowed to give as they please, they'll give too much money to their churches. In other words, "Why this waste?" John identifies Judas as the one pretending to be offended, and adds, "Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it." (John 12:6) That's a pretty good description of Congress, it seems to me. Jesus says to those who dream of all the good they could do with other people's money, You're scolding this woman for seeing what you don't see. Something greater than the poor is here.

Jesus explains: "For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me." We can infer several things from that brief statement:

1) We will never end poverty – "you always have the poor with you."

No amount of robbery and redistribution will prevent people from being poor. Anyone who tells you otherwise is calling Christ a liar.

2) Doing good to the poor is at our discretion. It's my choice to give, or not – "whenever you wish."

Perhaps the harshest condemnations in the Bible are directed at those who turn grace into law. "Let him be damned to hell" is the Holy Spirit's judgment in the first chapter of Galatians, and He repeats it for emphasis! When Paul's message and call were confirmed by the pillars of the church, he records, "They only asked us to remember the poor – the very thing I also was eager to do." (Galatians 2:10) The grace inside him was greater motivation than any possible law outside him.

3) Helping the poor is something we get to do, not something we have to do – "you can do good."

Turning a privilege into a duty is the job of the legalist, the Judaizer, the Pharisee. Faith says, "I shall run the way of Your commandments, For You will enlarge my heart." (Psalm 119:32) Need is not a demand, but an opportunity.

4) Serving the poor is not the goal, but the means; the objective is to glorify Christ – "you do not always have Me."

It will come as a shock to many leftists to discover that the poor are not God's highest priority. "All resources, public and private," as one Marxist put it to me, are not funneled to relief efforts. In the theocracy of ancient Israel, God commanded a tithe every 3 years for "the Levite, the stranger, the orphan and the widow." (See Deuteronomy 14:28 and 26:12-14) So even if we were to count church collections as "public" money, then something less than 3.3% of public resources was distributed to the poor – and only to certain categories of the poor. That's "what Jesus would do," because that's what He, as the second Person of the Trinity, did.

Jesus taught us that the purpose of almsgiving is to please and honor Him. "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'" (Matthew 25:40, emphasis mine) This aligns perfectly with Old Testament passages like Proverbs 14:31: "He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, But he who is gracious to the needy honors Him."

In the Judeo-Christian model of giving, the cause is God. "Everyone whose heart stirred him and everyone whose spirit moved him came and brought the LORD'S contribution...." (Exodus 35:21a) "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7b) because the gift is the natural result of the cheer, the overflowing gratitude of the heart. It might be well to remember at Thanksgiving-time that gratitude is grace's reflection. Where there is envy there is no gratitude, and grace is turned away.

The picture of Christian giving is the woman with her perfume – not Caesar with his tax.

Christian giving is prompted by the Holy Spirit; consists of an act of free will; insists on accountability; results in gratitude; and fulfills the purpose of glorifying Jesus Christ. Government redistribution, on the other hand, is motivated by lust for power; consists of dividing the spoils of a robbery; is indiscriminate; fosters covetousness, resentment and dependency; and glorifies man.

The name for this is "idolatry."

© Dan Popp


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