Music is the heartbeat of my day. I often have my iTunes or Spotify playlist on throughout my workday as it gives me creative flow and energy. Today I was listening to one of my favorite EP’s called “Concrete & Steeples” from a band called Alexander when I was struck by a very challenging lyric:
“We know the poor will never leave us. But the truth is, I don’t know what that means…the poor are not with me.”
This line is certainly based on a story found in all 4 gospels where a woman broke an expensive bottle of perfume all over Jesus’ feet. Upon seeing this, the disciples complained that the perfume was wasted, and could’ve been sold to give to the poor. But Jesus declared that she had done a beautiful thing and that “the poor will never leave us.”
This verse is so often taken out of context as an excuse to NOT care for the poor, homeless, downtrodden, etc. It’s so easy to take Jesus’ words there and use it as a loophole to ignore the beggar or bag lady. Even though the statement rings true, it certainly doesn’t mean to ignore the poor either. Jesus asks another man to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor. Even though the poor are always with us?
Jesus’ response makes perfect sense when we realize the disciples’ motive. Do they really intend to sell that perfume and give money to the poor? Or is this simply an excuse for what THEY consider is wasteful? Now understand that I’m not necessarily advocating vows of poverty for every single Christian. That’s a gift that I believe some people are called to, but surely shouldn’t be placed on every believer. Not to mention that it seems incredibly hip these days, which would probably echo the disciples’ remark. But what I am saying is that we need to examine our hearts when we think about that interaction of caring for the poor.
Back to the lyric: are the poor REALLY with me? On a global scale, if you live in America, you’re rich. FILTHY RICH. And I look at my life, my context, my apartment community, my lifestyle and ask…”Are the poor really with me?” Because if their not, I’m not sure if I have an excuse or a place in the conversation about what is wasteful and what isn’t. I can’t be honest with myself and say that I’d sell that perfume bottle.
There’s alot to be said about proximity when we talk about reaching people. Proximity determines the position or angle from which you can minister to people. It’s hard to act out in our own lavish lifestyles and expect to reach the poor on an effective level. It’s just sociologically difficult — you’re close with the people who are close by. We can do community projects and city reaches, and that’s all well and good. But that effort MUST extend into every day interaction. What if we stopped trying to reach people with distant arms and starting living life among the people? It can’t be about reaching “those people;” it has to be about loving and living and praying for our brothers and sisters. If we want to reach the poor, we have to start rubbing shoulders with the poor every day.
I understand that the term “poor” is on a bit of a sliding scale. But whether it’s in your own city or abroad, ask yourself that pointed question: Are the poor really with you? And if they aren’t, how can you shift to a position of proximity where you can be effective in living life alongside of the people you’re trying to reach?