"The poor you will always have with you..." (Matthew 26:11).
I have been thinking about Jesus' comment that we will always have the poor with us. Why would he say that?
I have come to believe that Jesus considered poverty a perpetual problem in this life because of its multifaceted and complex causes. This is a list of a few of the causes of poverty that I have observed over the years:
1. Disabilities. People with mental, physical, and emotional disabilities can have a difficult time finding and retaining jobs that pay living wages. Their disabilities may be congenital, or they may be due to injury. A mentally retarded man will not make good wages, no matter how hard he works. A wheelchair-bound woman with ALS will not be able to work. A man with schizophrenia will have great difficulty retaining his job. Furthermore, as much as they need it, those with disabilities will find it more difficult to find a job that offers health care benefits.
2. Dysfunctional Families/Divorce. Unstable families, divorce, and couples who live together outside of marriage create disadvantaged children. These children grow up dealing with issues of distrust and insecurity. Often, they deal with depression and the cultivation of unhealthy relationships. They look for love, but tend to find it in the wrong places. They can have emotional scars that hinder their ability to make wise choices in life. They are more likely to repeat the sins of their parents and repeat the cycle for the next generation. Since divorce and single parenthood disrupts family income, poverty often follows.
When a child grows up physically, sexually, or emotionally abused, the impact follows him or her throughout life. They will be prone to depression or to violence or to both. They will be haunted by their past. It will be terribly hard for them to make wise decisions about their future as they run from their past. Suicide is a strong temptation in their worldview. They do not have the strength to fight their battles alone. They were robbed of their dignity in childhood. They will face very difficult days as adults. Their finances are merely one of their problems.
3. Drug and Alcohol Abuse. Drug addicts and drunkards have very difficult lives. They do not enjoy healthy relationships. They have trouble finding and maintaining good jobs. Sometimes the drug and alcohol abuse starts as a result of the first two causes of poverty. They try to self-medicate in an effort to escape their problems of physical, emotional, or mental pain. Sometimes the addiction starts because of an effort to fit in with friends who are abusing drugs and alcohol. They make irrationally bad choices. In either case, drug and alcohol abuse does nothing but harm. Furthermore, if they become sober after spending time in jail or prison, the likelihood of ever finding a job paying above minimum wage is almost non-existent.
So do we give up on people in these kinds of situations? No. We come alongside them and become their friends. We share our time, resources, advice, and faith. They need true friends. They need the hope that comes from Christ. They need a new start to life, and the encouragement to persevere when the times get tough. Wealthier Christians do not need to passively shake their heads in sadness over their plights. Everyone can help in some way.