Jesus clearly had a special place in his heart for poor, vulnerable and disenfranchised people. With respect to the poor, they were specifically highlighted throughout his earthly ministry, from beginning to end. You’ll recall that when Jesus’ ministry started, he went to his hometown of Nazareth, entered the Synagogue and read from the scroll of Isaiah which was handed to him:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:17-19)
Then, with all eyes fastened on him, Jesus said “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).
Later on, when the disciples of the imprisoned John the Baptist went to Jesus at John’s bidding to ask “Are you the Messiah, or are we to expect someone else?” Jesus replied:
“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Luke 7:20-22)
And we must not forget the end of Jesus’ ministry, shortly before his death, when he reminded everyone that it wasn’t those who merely called him “Lord, Lord”, but rather those who reached out and helped the hungry, thirsty, homeless, and prisoners —those Jesus called “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine”—who were his true followers. In some sense that may be hard to explain, Jesus made abundantly clear that he regards our treatment of the poor among us very personally—as if it is he himself that we are, or are not, helping (Matthew 25:34-46).
Poverty is Always Here
So against this backdrop underscoring Jesus’ deep regard for the poor, it may seem harsh how he overrides the disciples’ rebuke of the woman who “wasted” expensive perfume anointing Jesus’ feet. The perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor, they protest, but Jesus responds: “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me” (Matthew 26:8-11). His words are reminiscent of those of Moses to the Israelites, “For the poor will never cease to be in the land…” (Deuteronomy 15:11).
The first time I went to Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake, I was overwhelmed with the poverty and need. I thought to myself of all the billions of dollars in aid and charity that had been given for decades and the pervasive squalor in which the bulk of the Haitian people nonetheless live. There were at the time renewed discussions of how aid could be approached differently in order to eradicate the poverty systemic to that country. It just struck me that whatever was tried, the problem would not—even could not— be solved. Then, Jesus’ words about the poor always being with us took on a different meaning to me. I realized it is not my burden to “solve” poverty. Rather, it is my burden and, indeed, an important proof of the authenticity of my faith, that I do what I can to help the poor within my reach. Instead of wringing my hands over the magnitude of the problem, I should honestly examine whether I am lending my hand and resources when and where I can.
Do What We Can
My wife and I found a practical and efficient way to do that in Haiti by helping in the work of Christianville, a ministry based in Gressier which has for nearly 40 years provided quality education, health services, and sustainable agriculture and essential food to many Haitians in need. Christianville offers a trustworthy, established and strategic vehicle through which we can leverage our resources into expanding our reach. There are certainly others, of course, and I recognize that the problem of poverty is present in our own neighborhoods, towns and cities as well. Each of us has different opportunities and resources to help the poor, for which we are each accountable, according to Jesus. Together, we won’t solve the problem of poverty in Haiti or even in our own backyard—the poor will always be among us in some form or fashion. But, by doing what we can, we will definitely make a difference to those we help, and in the process see for ourselves that our faith isn’t just words.