Jesus made a curious statement that would be so politically incorrect and so politically charged that it would have the talking heads on news channels exploding:
“The poor you will always have with you but you will not always have me.”
This was in response to an indignant statement by Judas the betrayer when he saw a woman pour extravagantly expensive perfume upon him as an anointing in preparation for his impending death.
So why is this such a fireworks’ charged statement? After all, Judas did virtuously suggest that the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor.
Could it be that Jesus understood something about money that has been forgotten on Capitol Hill and in the White House?
For one, Jesus’ statement is not only an accurate recount of history but also an accurate prophecy – no society has ever eradicated poverty. Societies that have tried through aggressive progressive social programs can claim everybody has health care and a job but really all that means is that everyone is equally poor and miserable. Even here in the US, trillions have been spent on social programs yet the poor haven’t gone away.
The fact of the matter is that there are some reasons why people are poor that no amount of social programs will solve. Those include people who make bad life decisions, people who have jobs that perform menial labor, and people through circumstance get poverty handed to them (e.g. disaster, health, economy, etc.).
The problem with a lot of social programs is that if a person is making bad life decisions, it enables them to continue in that lifestyle of living off of others. Worse yet, children who grow up under such influence will be more likely to repeat the same cycle of poverty if they are raised with low expectations.
For jobs that are menial, they were never designed to provide a “living wage” and to expect that someone can raise a family by flipping burgers or digging ditches won’t happen. For our society to work, you have to have entry level jobs where people can build skills and employers have low risk to hiring non-skilled workers.
When you raise the price of low skilled labor (labor is a business’s second largest expense) you increase risk for the business – which is why countries that typically have high minimum wage floors also have high unemployment amongst youth. A business simply cannot raise prices of their goods ($10 Big Macs anyone?) in response to high minimum wage laws and expect that demand will remain constant. And if prices in some mythical world raised equally across the board for all competitors, then you have inflation which reduces the purchasing power for everyone – and you goals of providing a living wage still prove elusive.
Instead, a business typically will reduce their risk by keeping on more mature, dependable worker and reduce or freeze hiring of teenagers and other high risk hires. So teenagers require more federal loans for school because they can’t get jobs and they can’t graduate with the kind of experience and work ethic that employers are looking for.
In a socialist (i.e. communist) regime, the government assumes all the employee risk so every job can pay virtually the same amount. Of course, there is no incentive to get better or to do better or improve your product, which is why socialist countries fall so far behind the technology curve. And everyone ends up living in poverty.
But there is something else to what Jesus said that is very important to note. Throughout the Gospels (the first four books of the New Testament that chronicle the life of Jesus), there is this theme of selling your possessions to care for the poor. The principle of personal charity is extremely strong and clear in the Bible.
However, when Judas looked at the woman pouring out this expensive perfume on Jesus and criticized her for it, Jesus stopped Judas in his tracks. Judas sought to demonize the woman for her gift and Jesus would have none of it.
Charity is not charity if it is forced by law or you are guilted into it.
And that’s why I cringe every time I hear some politician claim that they are doing God’s work when are using taxation for wealth distribution schemes. It isn’t charity as how the Bible defines it and it won’t eradicate poverty.
But the Bible tells us what Judas’ motivation was – he was the keeper of the purse for Jesus and the disciples and he would steal from it. Perfume that was worth a year’s wages would net him a healthy profit.
And isn’t that how so many politicians work? Under the guise of redistributive schemes money comes into the government coffers so that they can fund their favorite programs, keep themselves elected, and personally benefit from all the investment stuff that isn’t available to average people like us.
Is it no wonder that so many politicians get rich while they are in power? Abuse of the people’s purse increases as the people who control the purse are further away from those who give into it.
That’s why the founding Fathers of this country put the power of the purse with Congress and not the President – because at least the representatives in Congress must answer directly to the people of their state.