I believe that Tony Abbott is very committed to his Catholic faith, but I wonder at the wisdom of a politician quoting Scripture to reinforce reasons for political policy – especially when the Scripture quoted is obviously misunderstood and in reality teaches the opposite truth.
Jesus’ statement, “The poor you will always have with you …” (Matthew 26:11) was spoken by him to his disciples who were questioning why Mary had just poured an entire jar of very expensive perfume on his head. This jar of ointment was worth more than a year’s wages. It was an extravagant act which some of the disciples thought was over the top. Jesus disagreed. That’s when he made the comment “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” In other words, you won’t always have the opportunity to do good to me because I’m not going to be around; but there will always be poor people whom you can help. Jesus is not teaching inaction towards the poor – he’s teaching just the opposite.
Jesus’ statement in Matthew’s gospel is a quotation from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy 15:11: “There will always be poor people in the land.” Reading this verse in context reveals that the Bible is encouraging us not to be hardhearted or tightfisted toward the poor, but rather to be openhanded and freely lend whatever their needs. This passage also encourages us to give generously to the poor and do so without a grudging heart. “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” This is one of over 2000 references in the Bible on the responsibility of those who have to help those who have not. The Bible teaches action to alleviate poverty not inaction because there will always be poor people.
People become homeless for all sorts of reasons including mental illness, domestic violence and neglect. Right now there are over 100,000 homeless people in Australia – over half of these are under 25. Political posturing or misquoting the Bible won’t fix this problem. It will take a concerted effort on the part of all sides of politics along with churches, charities and social welfare organizations all working together to make a difference to those who, for various reasons, find themselves homeless, poor or underprivileged. Let’s not look for reasons to do nothing to help them!
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