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  • Writer's pictureEd & Jo Duenas


Updated: May 19, 2023

The Poor You Will Always Have With You — What Did Jesus Really Mean?

There is no doubt in my heart that there are people who are very passionate about poverty. Some go on short-term mission trips, some donate to help the poor, and some truly believe that poverty can be eradicated. But sometimes I wonder if they are really thinking straight. After all, Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11). But what did Jesus really mean by that? What is the true meaning of the Bible verse that states, “the poor you will always have with you?"

I heard this verse interpreted as,

“You cannot overcome poverty. It’s a useless cause. Don’t waste your money on it. Even Jesus said so.”

Ending poverty is a useless cause! Just look at what have been done and how much money have been poured into eradicating poverty, yet the world still struggles with poverty. United Nations’ number one goal in their Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) has been eradicating poverty and even calls poverty the world's greatest problem. And they are still trying to eradicate it and they are maybe close to ending "extreme poverty."

Can we really end poverty? Could the interpretation of Jesus’ words be true that it is useless to fight poverty? Was Jesus really saying that ending poverty is a lost cause?

Let’s look at the passage closely.

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,

a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

Matthew 26:6-13

Did Jesus mean that His disciples should not care about the poor when He said, “The poor you will always have with you?” Was he saying to them that they should not attempt resolving poverty because it is useless? A careful look at this passage in context, reveals a few insights.

“But you will not always have me.”

1. “The poor you will always have with you” is only half of the verse. The other half may give us clues on what Jesus really meant. The remainder of the verse states, “But you will not always have me.” Jesus was speaking directly to His disciples, and He is referring to their own lifetime. When Jesus said, “You will not always have me,” he was speaking of the fact that the very next day He would be crucified. Yet we know that the disciples and all of Jesus’ followers will always have Him because He promised us after His resurrection that He will surely be with us always, unto the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). But He was certainly not speaking of the poor being stuck in poverty forever.

2. Jesus was quoting from the Scripture.

His disciples would certainly be very familiar with the verse from Deuteronomy, and therefore understood what Jesus had in mind:

“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”

—Deuteronomy 15:11

The fact that the disciples said in verse 9 of Matthew 26 that the proceeds from selling the perfume that was used to anoint Jesus’ feet could have been given to the poor if it was to be sold points that Jesus and His disciples were taking care of the poor or helping the poor was part of their ministry.

"Surely the persistence of poverty is not a reason to ignore the plight of the poor, but to draw near to them with generosity."

The disciples knew and understood that the biblical response to poverty is being generous to the poor. Surely the persistence of poverty is not a reason to ignore the plight of the poor, but to draw near to them with generosity. This verse in Deuteronomy makes it clear that because the poor will always be with us “therefore” we should be even more generous toward the poor.

Good News About the Poor It is true that poverty can be passed down from generation to generation with terrible persistence, it is called downward spiral of vicious cycle of poverty. However, it is NOT TRUE that people living in poverty cannot escape it, or that God wants them to stay in poverty. Scripture is rich with promises that the poor can have abundant life today, including rising out from poverty. The very good news about poverty is that it can be ended. At Gospel Empowerment Ministry, we see to it that we meet the physical needs and address the spiritual needs of poor families in every community we are in. We believe that through education, they can rise above poverty. We meet the education needs of indigent students in our community through our Student Center and scholarship program. We believe that helping the poor is a sign of God’s Kingdom. It’s part of His plan for the people whom He created and dearly loves.

What’s Your Alabaster Jar?

The woman in our story who anointed Jesus is still teaching us today. Her example should challenge us to give our very best to God, without regard to the way others might see us. How might God be calling you to give Him your best today?

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. Proverbs 19:17

Gospel Empowerment Ministry


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