When a woman poured very expensive oil on Jesus’ head, a dispute arose among his followers. They reasoned that the ointment should have been sold and the money given to the poor.
Jesus responded with words about the poor that have been discussed for centuries: “For you always have the poor with you” (Matthew 26.11).
I have heard people use Jesus’ words to blame the poor for their situation in life and use it as an excuse to provide no help to them.
America has many “rags to riches” stories that are held up before the poor as an example. In effect, they say: “If this person can do it, so can you.”
Deuteronomy answers the question, “What about the poor?”
The Poor and Debt
Deuteronomy 14.28-29 records the command to use the tithe every third year to care for the Levites, widows, orphans, and immigrants.
Chapter 15 builds on this command and describes the way God wanted the debts of the poor to be handled.
— Deuteronomy 15.1-2, 4-6 – Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts.
And this is the manner of the remission: every creditor shall remit the claim that is held against a neighbor, not exacting it of a neighbor who is a member of the community, because the Lord’s remission has been proclaimed.
There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the Lord is sure to bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession to occupy,
If only you will obey the Lord your God by diligently observing this entire commandment that I command you today.
When the Lord your God has blessed you, as he promised you, you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you.
God anticipated circumstances that put people in poverty. He instituted prescriptions designed to assist the poor and most vulnerable persons in society.
The tithe of the third year was to be distributed to the needy. Debts were to be forgiven in the seventh year.
The statutes concerning tithes and the release of debt reflect two central aspects of God’s character.
(1) God’s nature is defined by love. He loves all people, not merely those who are successful in life.
To be created in the “image of God” means that humans are to reflect his love to others.
(2) God is faithful. He can be trusted. If he requires his children to share the abundance of the land, he will supply their needs.
God promises the nation that cares for the poor and vulnerable is quite generous. He promises, “You will not borrow; you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you” (Verse 6).
Giving Tests Character
Can you imagine the temptation of a successful farmer in the third or seventh year?
Possibly, he reasoned like this, “I have worked very hard for what I have. I understand giving to widows and orphans, but I don’t think immigrants and poor people deserve the produce hard-earned efforts. They need to take care of their own and not depend on me.”
God answers the farmer in the above illustration in the next verses.
— Deuteronomy 15.7-11 – If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.
You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.
Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt.
Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.
Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”
The only thing we have to give God that he can not provide from himself is our heart. He wants our heart offered to him in worship and love for other people.
God made it clear that “there will never cease to be some in need on the earth” (verse 11).
The response he wants from successful people toward the poor is to not be hard-hearted, tight-fisted, or stingy toward them.
Note, God does not criticize the poor and say to them, “Get a job!”
God speaks to the people who are able to provide for themselves and commands them to share with the poor and vulnerable.
Why? Because the opportunity to help others develops our character into one that is like God’s.
When Jesus told his followers, “For you always have the poor with you” (Matthew 26.11), he was referring to God’s message in Deuteronomy.
Both Jesus and God’s word in Deuteronomy challenge us to care for the poor, widows, orphans, and immigrants. Our intellectual excuses to not care for them can not overcome God’s desire for us to help.
How can we best help?
I think the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) gives us the best information about how to help.
The parable was a response to a religious leader who wanted to justify his behavior with an intellectual argument.
Jesus said that the person who shows mercy to people in need has fulfilled God’s law of love.
I understand the parable this way. When I meet someone in need, I pause and ask the Holy Spirit if I am to help. If the Spirit prompts me, then I do it. I let the Spirit guide me and trust God with the results.
I praise God for the many people I know who care for the poor, homeless, immigrant, the aged, and children. They have captured the heart of God toward people.
About This Blog
I have interviewed Rudy Ross on this passage. Rudy has much to add to the Bible message of Deuteronomy. You can find our discussion on the Bob Spradling YouTube channel.
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