Whatever events happened around Him, Jesus always used them to teach about the kingdom of God. That which He taught His disciples then is useful for us today in one form or another. One compelling incident occurred among those in His inner circle just before His triumphal entry into Jerusalem at Passover before His crucifixion.
Not long after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he ate a meal with him and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. Because of her great love for the Lord, Mary extravagantly gave to Him by anointing His feet with nard, a very expensive ointment. Did she know explicitly that this was in preparation for His death? He had certainly said many times to His followers that He was soon to die. Most of His disciples didn’t comprehend His Words – they seemingly went in one ear and out the other. Did Mary hear and understand?
At this time of her anointing Jesus, Judas criticized the action. John is clear in his writing that Judas cared nothing for the poor. His disapproval came because he saw this as a waste, in that he couldn’t subsequently sell the nard and skim the profits.
Think for a moment about Judas. Jesus knew all along that he was the one who would betray Him. Jesus understood that Judas’ heart was black, and that Satan would possess him. The situation with Judas was that he was spiritually poor. The Greek word used for both physical poverty, and the state of a person’s heart who is destitute in the spiritual graces, is ptóchos. It is the word that Jesus used in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3 when He spoke about those who are poor in spirit. It’s a word that can have either a good or bad connotation about this heart condition.
In this circumstance after Judas criticized Mary, Jesus made an important statement in John 12:8 concerning mankind:
“For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
Certainly, the truth of this is all around us, and we’ll come back to this in a moment. However, was there another, deeper meaning that Jesus conveyed when He said this? Besides the physical poor in the world, did he also refer to the fact that there would be those who were likewise spiritually poor, just like Judas? Is there a connection?
An aberrant movement within Christianity is the focus on the social gospel. Its root is one that denies sin as the cause for humanity’s ills; rather it sees the problems with mankind as systemic to their environment. It’s not their fault that they’re poor; the problem lies with societal conditions which make them that way.
Obviously, anyone who reads the Bible and truly understands it knows this is a false premise. Yes, there are poor in the world, but they are that way because of sin. The sin could have been their own; they could have suffered and become poor at the sinful hands of others; or because sin is in this world, their condition could have resulted from that. The latter is probably the closest explanation for those who believe the social justice gospel, but it still revolves around sin. One way or another, the poor are that way because sin entered the world and must be dealt with. For this, Jesus is the answer, just as He is the answer to all the problems in the world. Those who suffer poverty may be rich or poor in the condition of their heart. They may view their lack with bitterness, or they may rejoice that they know the One who will ultimately bring them into a place of great wealth in their Father’s house.
What about the adherents of the social gospel who push for the alleviation of poverty? Certainly, no one wants to see anyone else who has nothing to his name. But, the question becomes: What is most important? Is it attempting to lift these people out of poverty, or is it lifting them out of their impoverished heart condition? Which brings an eternal reward?
Just as importantly, what is the situation in the hearts of those who believe in this social justice movement? If their first and grandest objective is to do something about physical poverty, and the salvation of the poor is secondary or non-existent, what does this say about them?
Yes, the poor in material wealth are all around us and will continue to be so. However, those who are supposedly Christian may indeed have a destitute heart condition just as Judas did. He certainly wasn’t born again; in fact, Jesus described him in John 17:2 as the son of perdition. Those who follow the social gospel may not have earned such severe condemnation as Jesus heaps upon Judas, but they may very well be as lost as he.
As we view the world through a Biblical lens and watch both secular and religious attempts to navigate all that we encounter, let us not forget that ultimately there are only two kinds of people around us: those who are lost and those who are saved. We can generally identify the lost, but because of the trappings of Christianity, we may not identify those who are just as lost within our own ranks. Yet, what does Scripture urge us to understand in this respect? We will know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:16).
If someone is laboring in such a way that it appears righteous, look deeper. Are their efforts geared toward the Great Commission with the salvation of many and the discipling of them as Jesus commanded? Or are they only worldly focused? In other words, do these so-called Christians need our prayers as much as anyone else? Absolutely.
The poor are all around, and they will always be with us.