Do We Have the Poor with Us?

By Mark D. Roberts

February 28, 2017

The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.

Mark 14:3


Families and tourists oblivious to a person who begs.I want to pause one more day to reflect with you on the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume. In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion I focused on the costly sacrifice of the woman who anointed Jesus with such expensive perfume. Today, I want to draw our attention to something Jesus said in response to this generous act.

As the woman anointed Jesus, some who observed her behavior were critical. Recognizing how expensive her perfume was (perhaps around $20,000 in today’s money), they objected: “It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor” (14:5). Now, this is surely a reasonable, even compassionate objection. Just think of how many people living in poverty could have been helped if the woman had sold the perfume rather than dumping it all on Jesus.

In response to this objection, Jesus told those who were upset to leave the woman alone. She had done “a beautiful thing” for Jesus (14:6). Then, addressing the issue of the poor, Jesus said, presumably to his disciples, “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me” (14:7). Jesus may have been alluding to a passage in Deuteronomy 15 that calls the Israelites to care for the poor among them (Deut 15:4). This passage acknowledges, “There will always be poor people in the land.” (Deut 15:11).

But I wonder if Jesus intended more in Mark 14:7 than simply to acknowledge that the poor would be “hanging around” in need of help. Did he envision that his followers would always be in genuine relationship with the poor? Notice that Jesus did not say, “There will always be poor people in the world,” but rather, “The poor you will always have with you [meth’ heauton].” This suggests a community in which the poor are welcomed, not only as the recipients of charity, but also as brothers and sisters.

Nothing in this passage suggests that giving to the poor isn’t important. In fact, Jesus assumed that his followers would provide tangible help to the poor, as well as being in relationship with them. But for most of us it’s easier to give money to needy people who are far away than to be in relationship with them. Mark 14:7 challenges us, both as individuals and as church members, to open our hearts, our lives, and our homes to those who lack financial resources.


When have you been in relationship with people who are poor? How has this affected you?

How open is your Christian community to people who are not like the majority of members?

In what ways might you have the poor “with you” more than you do today?


Lord Jesus, thank you for this reminder that the poor are to be among your people. I must confess that I find it easier to help from a distance than to open my life and my heart to those who are struggling. Forgive me, Lord, for my preference for my own safety and comfort.

Help me, and help my church, to be a place where the poor can be truly at home. In the context of genuine relationship with those who are financially strapped, may we share, not just our money, but also our lives.

Today I’m reminded to pray, not only for me and my church, but also for your church throughout the world. May we be unified in spite of our many differences. May those who are rich and those who are poor be bound together in your love, so that we might share all that we have with each other in your name. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentaryIf the Poor Will Always Be Here, Why Bother?

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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