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“You always have the poor with you…”
Mark 14:7 has always been one of those really problematic verses for me. In this short verse, it appears as though Jesus is rather pessimistically predicting that there will always be poor people (and he may very well be). I fear that such a hopeless sentiment might breed apathy on the part of the Church–we don’t have to worry about those who are hungry, they’re always going to be around. For this reason, I’ve often thought (and a few times said out loud) that this would be one of those verses that I would like to surreptitiously remove from our Christian Bible.
Yesterday we had the privilege of speaking with Phil Anderson, the director of Lutheran World Federation in Central America. In his work with the people of Central America, he offered a different reading of the text, one born out of his struggle for justice alongside the poor and oppressed people of El Salvador. Phil suggested that when Jesus says that we will always have the poor with us, he was not offering some dark forecast of poverty ad infinitum. Rather, he was giving a command, telling his followers to be sure that they always have those who are poor and oppressed beside them and, likewise, to always be on their side.
As I’ve been in Nicaragua, I must confess that at moments the problem of global poverty feels so big, so insoluble, that I find myself wondering why I even care. Phil’s interpretation of Jesus’ words remind me of why I have committed myself to this struggle. As much as I want global hunger to end, that’s not what motivates me. Indeed it cannot: I suspect hunger will be around for quite some time yet. Rather, I do what I do because Jesus calls me to be with those who are poor. To hear their stories. To walk alongside them in their struggles. To advocate on their behalf. May we have the courage and strength to always be with those who are poor.
In the picture above: Women and girls fetching water for the day in the community of Mata de Cañas in NW Nicaragua. The line for the well begins to form around 4am and usually lasts until about 9:30am. It takes about 90 cranks on the wheel (which amounts to about four continuous minutes of pretty physical labor) to fill a 5 gallon bucket. The temperature when I visited was in the low 90s. Some of the women who use the well travel as far as 2 km on foot.