Friday, June 18, 2010

Misused Bible Verses: Matthew 26:11

Whenever I hear some one quote Matthew 26:11--"You will always have the poor among you . . . "--it's usually when some one doesn't want to talk about fighting poverty. If Jesus said we would always have poor people among us, then why try to fight poverty? Why not just write a check to a charity?

Is this what Jesus really meant? Let's look at the text in context:

"Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had leprosy. During supper, a woman came in with a beautiful jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head. The disciples were indignant when they saw this. 'What a waste of money,' they said. 'She could have sold it for a fortune and given the money to the poor.'

But Jesus replied, 'Why berate her for doing such a good thing to me? You will always have the poor among you, but I will not be here with you much longer. She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial. I assure you, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman's deed will be talked about in her memory.'"--Matthew 26:11

So Jesus and His followers are dining at Simon the ex-leper's house, when out of the blue this strange woman comes up and starts pouring top-quality perfume over Jesus' head. The disciples, once again, don't understand what's going on, so they say she could have sold the perfume and given that money to the poor. And that's when Jesus says, "You will always have the poor among you, but I will not be here with you much longer."

Jesus isn't rebuking the disciples for wanting to help the poor, but because they didn't understand that Jesus was about to die.

As the book of Ecclesiastes says, there is a time and place for everything. And I think this passages in Matthew 26 is trying to say there is a time to go out and serve the poor, and then there's a time to spend it with Jesus--especially at that particular moment when He was about to be arrested.

It's interesting to note that this isn't the first place the Bible says we will always have poor people. According to Deuteronomy 15:11, "There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land." So perhaps Jesus was referring to this verse when he told the disciples, "You will always have the poor among you."

So there you have it: Jesus isn't saying, "Don't bother fighting for poverty." He's saying, "There's a time for charity and social justice, but right now it's not that time." Got it?


  1. This post is so close to my heart. Thank you for writing this. It's good to hear from people that have the same convictions and beliefs.

  2. Was there a typo in the last sentence?

    He's saying, "There's a time for charity and social justice, but right now it's [NOT] that time." Got it?


  3. Is it charity for the government to confiscate money and make decisions for us who should get it? Is it even sound thinking or fiscal policy for the government to confiscate a dollar and pass on thirty cents??
    Churches were the center of VOLUNTARY charity giiving... as well as giving directly as the need appeared to them. And Churches typically handle charity 90 cents on the dollar received.

  4. George--

    I don't know what kind of crack you're smoking, but I didn't say anything about the government! How come every time some one says the world "fighting poverty," y'all Tea Party folks automatically think we're talking about communism?

  5. Thank you for this. I also just encountered a Christian who thought this meant attempts to help the poor are futile. Why anyone would want to twist the Bible to try to express that is beyond me.