When questions about society's role in addressing poverty are raised, people often say,"Didn't Jesus say that you will always have the poor with you? So why should we try to address or reduce poverty?"
To help answer this question I have asked Rev. Ryan Andersen, Pastor at Advent Lutheran Church in Calgary and Rev. Anna Greenwood-Lee, Rector at St. Laurence Anglican Church also in Calgary to give their best shot at a response to this frequent query.
"First it is important when using a quote form scripture to always look at its context. In this case (Matthew 26:9) it is in the context of a woman who has just poured costly ointment on Jesus. Jesus makes this statement specifically to defend this woman's action, and it is in the context of the preparation for Jesus' upcoming crucifixion. Jesus is defending and supporting an act of devotion and love. There is no indication that Christians should not care for the poor in fact it likely indicates the opposite, namely that caring for the poor and addressing poverty is the continuous responsibility of Christians. It is the special circumstance of Jesus' upcoming death, and that it is an act of worship, that seems to allow for this extravagance.
This verse should also be understood in the broader context of scripture and the deep commitment to addressing poverty that is its consistent theme. In the chapter before Jesus' anointing, Jesus presents the scene of the last judgment (Matthew 25:31-46) Jesus set out only one criteria for how we will be judged, it is how we have treated "the least of these" and he equates how we treat the least of these as being how we have treated Christ. In Acts we read that making sure no one was in need was one of the characteristics of the early church, with everyone selling all that they had and distributing the proceeds to all, as they had need (Acts 2:43-47). Likewise, caring for the poor and doing justice, are some of the most consistent themes of the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures (OT).
Far from directing us away from caring for the poor and addressing poverty, scripture consistently emphasizes that caring for the poor must be one of the central concerns and activities for any follower of Christ. If we dare to follow Christ, it is often precisely of caring for the poor and working for justice, that we discover the fullness of the life of discipleship that Jesus calls us to."
Rev. Ryan Andersen