There is no doubt in my mind but that Jesus has a preferential option for the poor. We see that He would rather eat with those less fortunate and never actually spoke harsh words to them, the rich on the other hand… The poor, the fathers tell us, have only God to rely on whilst the rich own their possessions.
So what do we make of this passage from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 26 where Jesus says that we will always have the poor with us? Well this passage as with all passages, needs to be looked at in the context of which it was written.
This particular periscope also appears in the Gospel of Mark as well as that of John. It is part of the story of the woman Mary coming to anoint his feet. There is much discussion amongst the commentaries about where this actually took place and who this woman Mary was but we will leave that for another day. For now I wish to focus on this passage that has been used by Christians to say we do not have to support the poor because they will always be with us.
In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says in verse 10, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always.” (John uses the same formula in his Gospel.) That is the passage that is the most frequently quoted or should I say misquoted.
In Mark’s Gospel, chapter 14 and verse 7 Jesus says, “For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always.” A little different take there on the same passage.
So by looking at the context of this passage and not proof texting to prove our point, we see that Jesus is saying that the anointing she gave Him is a good thing for that very moment because He will not be with us forever, but the poor will be around tomorrow and we can help them after.
Jesus commands us in Matthew Chapter 25 that we are to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and visit the sick and those in prisons, commands not suggests. We have the duty to support those less fortunate then ourselves, a Christian duty! St. James tells us that a faith without works is a dead faith.
One of my favorite saints of the Orthodox Church is Mother Maria of Paris. An amazing woman and servant of the poor who I try to emulate in my daily struggle in the monastic life. Mother Maria had this to say about serving the poor and I believe it sums up our entire Christian teaching on Salvation:
“The way to God lies through love of people. At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked, did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked. About every poor, hungry and imprisoned person the Savior says ‘I’: ‘I was hungry and thirsty, I was sick and in prison.’ To think that he puts an equal sign between himself and anyone in need. . . . I always knew it, but now it has somehow penetrated to my sinews. It fills me with awe.”
The church will only truly become the Church when we start living the Christian message in everything that we do. We have to live for the poor and vulnerable we have to speak for those who cannot speak. We have to truly be the hands of Christ in this world and serve His people above all else.
Several years ago Metropolitan Jonah of the OCA asked in a talk where the Orthodox soup kitchens and hospitals and the like were. I am asking the same question. We do indeed have a preferential option for the poor and so I ask each of you who may read this, what are you doing to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit those who are sick or in prison?