Over the years I have seen the struggle for maintaining social safety nets and I have personally wrestled with my own responsibilities to those in need around me. Time and again I have heard “Christians” say we shouldn’t bother with safety nets or food programs because “Jesus says, ‘You always have the poor with you.”One morning I found myself mulling this over and I realized something: Jesus wasn’t speaking to the disciples – he was speaking directly to Judas!
Rather than an ethical/political statement, Jesus was rebuking Judas. John tells us that Judas had rather sticky fingers. He wanted to sell the perfume to grow the coffers so he could then help himself to more of it. Jesus was pointing out that Judas had always had the poor around him and had every opportunity to distribute to those in need — but he didn’t. It had always been Judas’ responsibility to help the needy but he hadn’t. He ignored the poor and focused on his greed.
The more I ponder this the more I realize that to ignore the poor, either institutionally or personally, is in fact to be squarely on the side of Judas. Jesus is saying to me that, yes! I do very much always have the poor with me. Now what am I going to do about that? I can keep focusing on satisfying my own needs — or presumed needs — or I can work to help the poor and end the injustices that create the poor.
The reading from Isaiah says, “he will faithfully bring forth justice.” My prayer this Lent is that God will open my eyes, my heart, and my hands to see the poor that I always have with me and respond as Jesus would.