Ye Have the Poor with You Always

October 9, 2006 | 54 comments
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In a discussion at the ExII blog on the Church’s recent decision renovate downtown Salt Lake, a commenter named Dave justified his support of the Church’s position this way:

The poor ye shall always have with you. An appealing urban landscape, however, is a rare thing, and requires effort, vision and money to make it happen. A billion for humanitarian aid is like spitting at the ocean, but a billion to upgrade SLC will actually make a big difference.

If you want to discuss the Church’s recent actions, join the fray over at ExII because I’ll delete any comments to that effect on this post. This post is about Dave’s argument and its legitimacy.

Short answer: he’s reading it wrong. Jesus’ statement occurs in the context of an objection made to his anointing. (More on that story here, here, and here.) The objectors had pointed out that the ointment could have been sold for 300 denarii (or: about a year’s wages for an average working person) and that the money could have been given to the poor. In reply, Jesus states:

For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.

First note that he is not making a contrast between himself and the poor but rather a temporal contrast: in a few days, it will no longer be possible to do what this woman has done to/for him, but the poor will still be there. More importantly, however, note that Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 15:11:

For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.

The context of this verse is the practice of the seventh-year release, which, according to the text, is designed to alleviate social inequality in Israel (i.e., the result of the sabbatical is that “there will be no poor among you,â€? Deut 15.4 RSV). Deuteronomy 15.3-11 focuses on one’s motivation for lending money (which should not be to gain wealth by accumulating interest but rather to assist someone in need) in light of the knowledge that the sabbath year is impending. The text suggests that one who refuses to lend money because of the impending release is sinful. (The next time a member of your Sunday School class sneers at ‘the lower law’, ask them how many loans they have made recently with no goal other than to help the poor.) The relevant passage reads:

. . . but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take heed lest there be a base thought in your heart, and you say, “The seventh year, the year of release is near,� and your eye be hostile to your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and it be sin in you. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him; because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. (Deut 15.8-10 RSV)

Jesus is suggesting that the woman, although aware that his death is near and that she is, therefore, unlikely to have her kindness “repaid,� has “give[n] to him freely� and thus contrasts with those whose hearts are “grudging,� despite the fact that it is not their ointment that has been used. Their motive is comparable to those who do not lend money for fear of the impending year of release.

If you are whining and I tell you “the grass is always greener . . . “, I expect that you realize that I am not talking about grass. I’m expecting you to fill in the second half of a well known phrase and to realize its greater meaning. The same is the case with Jesus’ words in this passage: the color of the grass isn’t relevant, and the continual existence of poverty is not being justified. When Jesus says, “ye have the poor with you always,” what he is implying is, “therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, the poor.”

Again, this isn’t a discussion of the SLC plan. It is a discussion about the meaning of Jesus’ words.

54 Responses to Ye Have the Poor with You Always

  1. Peter on October 9, 2006 at 1:12 pm

    This post is about Dave’s argument and its legitimacy.

    It probably ought to be said that while Dave\’s argument distorts Christ\’s message about the poor among us, he is no doubt writing with tongue firmly planted in cheek for rhetorical effect.

    That said, I agree with your discussion about the meaning of His words.

  2. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 9, 2006 at 1:29 pm

    For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.

    Nicely noted, that we should, in response to the poor being always with us, always be generous.

  3. Julie M. Smith on October 9, 2006 at 1:48 pm

    Peter, his follow-up does not lead me to believe that the original statement was tongue in cheek, but I hope I am wrong about this.

  4. Russell Arben Fox on October 9, 2006 at 2:28 pm

    Brilliant exegesis, Julie; thank you. I have always suspected that there was something simply wrong with the casual use of this recorded statement of Christ’s to justify a perspective on the world which the promise of Zion itself completely undermines, but I’ve never known what it is. Now I know.

  5. JKC on October 9, 2006 at 2:33 pm

    If he said it seriously its a gross misreading of the scriptures. If he said it tongue-in-cheek it’s in poor taste (no pun intended).

    But what’s the deal with this: “An appealing urban lanscape is a rare thing.” Personally, I find most urban landscapes to be appealing; who’s going to say that the NYC skyline isn’t beautiful, or that Grand Central Station isn’t inspiring?. Even the dirtier cities (like Chicago, for example) have a certain noir/Gotham City appeal to them. Then again, I don’t find much of the suburban sprawl of the SL valley very appealing. But isn’t that missing the point? I mean, is this just an argument about aesthetics?

    I don’t see what an appealing urban landscape (whether I disagree or not) has to do with Jesus quoting the law of Moses. Again, if he meant it seriously, its ust plain wrong. If he meant it tongue-in-cheek I don’t think he understands the nature of humor.

  6. mullingandmusing (m&m) on October 9, 2006 at 2:33 pm

    I read it as sarcasm as well.

  7. Geoff J on October 9, 2006 at 2:43 pm

    Julie: he is not making a contrast between himself and the poor but rather a temporal contrast: in a few days, it will no longer be possible to do what this woman has done to/for him, but the poor will still be there

    It seems to me that the explanation of that passage you gave could work pretty well for Dave’s position too. There clearly a time-based component to this decision by the Church too after all. What I mean is that in another decade or so the area surrounding the temple could become a ghetto like it has in other places (I’m thinking of LA and Mesa as temples that are now located in pretty dumpy parts of town… ) So doesn’t this “temporal contrast” argument work against your claim that Dave misused that passage?

  8. Ardis on October 9, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    Posts like this make me grateful that I finally discovered the blogs. (The ExII discussion reminds me that it isn’t gratitude unalloyed.)

    Ever watch those roundtable discussions on KBYU where religion professors sit around and ask each other inane questions like “What does verse 4 say happened next?” and “How did that make him feel?” You put them all to shame, Julie, and you do it without their simpering.

  9. Dave on October 9, 2006 at 2:52 pm

    Wow, strange discussion, me of all people showing up at T&S to defend a GA investment proposal from cheap “give it to the poor” criticism. And it is cheap. In my comment at Ex2, I was defending the investment in downtown SLC proposed by Pres. Hinckley against criticism that, instead, LDS leaders ought to take the funds (and I don’t have the actual number but it is likely a lot less than a billion) and “give it to the poor.” Citing Matthew 26 (I didn’t cite Deuteronomy) seems perfectly defensible given that Jesus’ misguided but well-intentioned disciples made the same criticism of the woman who used expensive oil to anoint him rather than selling it and giving the proceeds to the poor. Someone explain to me why it is improper to bring Matthew 26 into that discussion.

    And while you’re taking me to task for defending Pres. Hinckley’s proposal, you ought to at least state what your own position is: Are you taking the position that he is wrong to commit to this investment project and that he should actually take the investment funds and give them to the poor? Or do you, in fact, support the proposed investment but reject my use of Matthew 26 to defend the plan? In which case I would like to hear just how you would respond to the criticism, “You should just give the money to the poor rather than invest in property around Temple Square.”

  10. Russell Arben Fox on October 9, 2006 at 2:55 pm

    “And while you’re taking me to task for defending Pres. Hinckley’s proposal, you ought to at least state what your own position is.”

    Dave, Julie is talking about the proper understanding of a certain passage of scripture which you quoted as part of your argument; she’s not talking about your argument. You have no idea what her “position” is, because she doesn’t offer one, and doesn’t need to, because that’s not what she’s discussing. She makes that pretty clear in her post.

  11. Rosalynde Welch on October 9, 2006 at 3:24 pm

    Hi Dave, I was wondering whether that was you in the ExII discussion! I appreciated your remarks over there.

    Julie, this is so interesting. I still can’t quite get the sense of the passage, though. Could you rewrite Jesus’ reply in a way that conveys the moral logic of his point?

  12. Kevin Barney on October 9, 2006 at 3:33 pm

    Chicago is “dirtier” than NYC?

  13. endlessnegotiation on October 9, 2006 at 3:35 pm

    RAB:

    I don’t think you understand what “the promise of Zion” is. I don’t think the promise of Zion is that poverty (in its absolute embodiment) will disappear– only that in Zion all will be united in relieving it. You seem insistent on turning poverty into a moral evil rather than accepting it as a natural evil and that is a position I find wholly unsupportable both scripturally and logically.

    JMS:

    Like Rosalynde, I’m a bit confused by what you claim Jesus was saying either about poverty or non-charitable consumption.

  14. Serenity Valley on October 9, 2006 at 4:07 pm

    endlessnegotiation,

    The Book of Mormon, the Old and New Testaments, Joseph Smith, and Brigham Young all present poverty quite straightforwardly as a moral evil.

  15. queuno on October 9, 2006 at 4:22 pm

    Give me downtown Pittsburgh over NYC, anyway.

    [And I was raised to hate Pittsburgh with the deepest loathing.]

  16. mullingandmusing (m&m) on October 9, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    Well, I guess I was wrong about the sarcasm. Thanks for explaining further here, Dave. I’m not sure that was the greatest scripture to use to articulate your point, but I agree wholeheartedly that we need to support our leaders in this decision wholeheartedly.

  17. Julie M. Smith on October 9, 2006 at 4:43 pm

    Re #5: JKC, your comment would be more appropriate on the ExII thread.

    Geoff J in #7: if that’s the argument being made (although I don’t think that was his point, since that isn’t the direction he took it later on), then it may be reasonable.

    Dave, you can’t choose *not* to cite Deut 15:11 in this discussion because Jesus is quoting it. You then write, “And while you’re taking me to task for defending Pres. Hinckley’s proposal”

    I’m doing no such thing! I support the Church’s decision is this–I just object to your defense of it via a misreading of scripture. (Ah, I see later on that RAF has already made this point.)

    RW (and endlessnegotiation) ask, “Could you rewrite Jesus’ reply in a way that conveys the moral logic of his point?”

    How about this: “Because Deut. teaches that the poor will never cease out of the land, you have an obligation to always extend your hand to them–that is a commandment. However, this is your last opportunity to do anything involving me. Because the woman did this, recognizing that my ‘time of release’ is soon and that her gift will not be in any normal sense ‘repaid’, she has fulfilled this law by making a gift without expecting to be repaid. Yet this in no way means that the poor should not be taken care of.”

    Why was using–to put it in modern terms–35K worth of ointment on Jesus a good stewardship of her resources? Because this isn’t perfume. He is called Christ (which is Greek; Hebrew is ‘messiah’ and English would be ‘the anointed’) and this is an anointing that explains/enacts the dual nature of his Christhood: he is both the suffering servant (i.e., burial anointing) and the royal messiah (i.e., royal anointing). This teaching is so important (it is, after all, expaining the essence of who Jesus is) that it is worth it. It is not a waste to convey this truth–no truth is more precious.

  18. Frank McIntyre on October 9, 2006 at 4:44 pm

    Julie,

    I agree that we should always help the poor, but I don’t think Dave is wrong to use the scripture he does. It is not at all obvious that Jesus is arguing that the woman is more blessed because he is leaving soon and so can’t bless her. Not only does it not say that, but it isn’t even true that she can’t be blessed. The more obvious, to me, reading, is that there was a spiritual benefit to be had that outweighed the good that could come from using the money to help the poor. And that spiritual benefit required a large expenditure _now_.

    Since he commands us to build temples that cost a fair bit of money, I think Jesus must believe in some form of that argument (poverty spending need not trump spiritual but symbolic expenditures). I think the Deut. tie-in is interesting, but the existence of that hypothetical tie-in does not show that Jesus wasn’t also making another argument. And the other argument ties in nicely with the point that salvaging the surroundings of the SLC temple now might be worth a billion dollars to the Church and Zion.

  19. Frank McIntyre on October 9, 2006 at 4:47 pm

    Julie,

    Can you provide some support for the fact that Jesus and his audience both saw this as shorthand for Deut 15 and that that was the sum total of the argument? Is it required that all passages in the NT similar to ones in the OT be treated as shorthand for the arguments made in the OT, or could they be making different points? It seems to me that they can both quote and be making an independent point.

  20. JKS on October 9, 2006 at 4:50 pm

    Like Jesus, Pres. Hinkley is not refusing to give to the poor. Christ points our that we can help the poor at any time and all the time if we so choose. President Hinkley encourages us to do the same.
    Just because we don’t completely understand CHRIST’S actions (whether he gets his feet anointed or whether he directs the First Presidency of HIS church to invest HIS church’s finances in a certain way) doesn’t mean that it is wrong and that giving to the poor is better than CHRIST’S actions.
    Anyone who objects to this idea should not buy any scriptures because that money could be given to the poor, should not buy a framed picture of Christ, or buy a book written by Pres. Hinkley, or buy supplies to supplement their Primary class because they believe that no other righteous result is more important that spending money on the poor. In fact, all of the church’s budget should be spent on the poor rather than ward activities, dinners, youth dances, etc. if we follow that line of reasoning.
    The law of consecration requires that we build the kingdom of God. I fully support the First Presidency in their decisions because I KNOW that they are making this decision because they believe it is what they need to do to build the kingdom of God. Feeding the hungry is not God’s main purpose. Bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man is God’s main purpose. I think it is far too simple to claim that this project is just about owning businesses or making a particular city be more beautiful. There is deliberate purpose in financial decisions made by our church, and that purpose is to build the kingdom now and in the future.

  21. Julie M. Smith on October 9, 2006 at 5:00 pm

    Frank writes, “The more obvious, to me, reading, is that there was a spiritual benefit to be had that outweighed the good that could come from using the money to help the poor.”

    I think we are on the same page here: this strikes me as another way of saying what I said (and probably a more concise and articulate one at that).

    Frank writes, “Since he commands us to build temples that cost a fair bit of money, I think Jesus must believe in some form of that argument (poverty spending need not trump spiritual but symbolic expenditures).”

    I agree. But that isn’t the point Dave was making (at least as I read it and he clarified it in later comments). Simply, it doesn’t require an attitude of “eh, the poor will always be here so you can just ignore them–don’t bother trying to help them” to think that there are legitimate uses of money besides helping the poor.

    Frank writes, “Can you provide some support for the fact that Jesus and his audience both saw this as shorthand for Deut 15 and that that was the sum total of the argument?”

    This is a very good question. The custom was to give the poor special gifts at passover time (which is when this story occurs), so the theme would have been on their minds. Also, this story is paralleled (with a whole slew of identical vocabulary and a chiastic structure) with the story of the widow’s mite where, obviously, themes of poverty and use of resources are also very prominent. So we have some good but circumstantial evidence there. I think the most important point, however, is that ancient audiences would have been way more familiar with the scriptures than we are and I’m pretty sure it would have been impossible for them to read/hear this phrase and *not* fill in the blank with Deut. any more than I could say “he huffed and he puffed and he” and you wouldn’t think “blew the house down.”

  22. Ronan on October 9, 2006 at 5:02 pm

    Frank,
    I think Jesus was free to make any point he wanted and was not wed to an OT, or any other, understanding. Having said that, I agree with Julie’s exegesis. When Jesus quoted scripture it would have resonated in the ears’ of his Jewish hearers. Thus, when he said what he did, they would have thought of Deuteronomy, regardless of Jesus’ actual intentions.

  23. Frank McIntyre on October 9, 2006 at 5:25 pm

    OK, I’m on board with the idea that they saw the connection. But a passage’s meaning is not unique. Thus, establishing that they thought of meaning A (first or more often) does not preclude a meaning B. Of course, since I think we agree on the meaning, I’m not sure that there is a meaning B vs. A to fight over.

    “I agree. But that isn’t the point Dave was making (at least as I read it and he clarified it in later comments). ”

    I must plead ignorance of the riveting Ex2 discussion, so I can’t say if Dave meant largely the same as what I said above or whether he’s saying that he hates poor people, children, and rain forests. But if I had to guess I’d say he was just saying what I said (or I was saying what he said, or whatever).

  24. mullingandmusing (m&m) on October 9, 2006 at 5:38 pm

    Although I didn’t read the whole discussion, I doubt there is a soul in the Church who believes that the poor should be ignored. I doubt that was Dave’s assertion. I would suspect he meant more along the lines of what Frank has said.

    Julie, I have to wonder, though…why not share your own perspective on the scripture without cutting someone else’s use of it? I don’t see the merit of your approach that feels rather in-your-face and I’m-right-you’re-wrong. There are certainly more ways than one to read a scripture, are there not?

  25. mullingandmusing (m&m) on October 9, 2006 at 5:44 pm

    And Julie, if I’m misreading you then I apologize. It just felt a bit to me like you wanted to pick a fight to demonstrate your understanding, and that seems to undermine what you have to share. You have a lot of interesting insights, but I feel sometimes as though there isn’t much room for someone else to have a different reading, ya know?

  26. Julie M. Smith on October 9, 2006 at 5:52 pm

    Dave can speak for himself as to what he meant, but “A billion for humanitarian aid is like spitting at the ocean” seems to imply that spitting in the ocean isn’t such a great idea.

    m & m asks, “Julie, I have to wonder, though…why not share your own perspective on the scripture without cutting someone else’s use of it? I don’t see the merit of your approach that feels rather in-your-face and I’m-right-you’re-wrong. There are certainly more ways than one to read a scripture, are there not?”

    I don’t believe in free-for-all scripture interpretations. I think there are a range of acceptable meanings and the rest are not defensible. What Dave proposes for this verse falls under the realm of non-defensible readings, so I’m not going to pretend that this is a big tent we can all fit under. However, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other possible interpretations to this verse. Geoff J presented a very reasonable one that is applicable to the discussion, but there’s no indication here or at ExII that that was what Dave was thinking.

  27. Geoff J on October 9, 2006 at 6:02 pm

    Julie: Yet this in no way means that the poor should not be taken care of.

    It is sounding more and more like you thought Dave was saying we should just ignore thee poor. I don’t read that into his comments over there at all.

    So Dave… what did you mean? Did Julie write this post in vain?

  28. Geoff J on October 9, 2006 at 6:06 pm

    That last question of mine probably should read “Was Julie inspired to write this post by an incorrect assumption?”

  29. Julie M. Smith on October 9, 2006 at 6:13 pm

    Geoff J,

    I think it goes a little deeper and broader than “just ignore the poor”: if you look at Amy and Ronan’s responses to Dave over at ExII, you’ll see some other reactions to–and interpretations of–what he said. Ronan reads Dave as comparing condos to the body of Christ.

    In his response here, Dave said, “Citing Matthew 26 (I didn’t cite Deuteronomy) seems perfectly defensible given that Jesus’ misguided but well-intentioned disciples made the same criticism of the woman who used expensive oil to anoint him rather than selling it and giving the proceeds to the poor.”

    The problem that he didn’t cite that part of Mt 26; if he had said, “y’all [assuming he's from the south here . . .] are acting like the disciples who didn’t get that there are sometimes superior uses for money than helping the poor,” I wouldn’t have said anything–that strikes me as a fair reading of this story and a fair application of it. But by citing what he did, he created the impression that he was using the phrase to condone the continual existence of poverty–this is supported by his follow-up about spitting in the ocean. I wasn’t the only one to take his comment this way over there, and at this writing, he hasn’t corrected that impression.

  30. Julie M. Smith on October 9, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    I could have explained this part better: “But by citing what he did, he created the impression that he was using the phrase to condone the continual existence of poverty–this is supported by his follow-up about spitting in the ocean.”

    Jesus says, “The poor you have with you always” and the implied punchline to his statement is: “therefore you are commanded to help them.”

    Dave says, “The poor you have with you always” and helping them will have the same effect as spitting in the ocean.

    I see Jesus as affirming that there are legitimate uses of large sums of money besides helping the poor but in the same breath emphasizing the importance of contunuing to help the poor. Dave appears to have done just the opposite.

  31. Frank McIntyre on October 9, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    Julie,

    I think “spit in the ocean” is a synonomous but more graphic version of “drop in the bucket”.

    At which point he is not arguing that it is bad, but rather that it won’t solve poverty in Utah or anywhere else because that is a problem that takes much more than a billion dollars to deal with (or something like that).

    Thus we see the pitfalls of Dave-ic exegesis. I’ll give up now and wait for Dave to clarify.

  32. Julie M. Smith on October 9, 2006 at 6:24 pm

    Frank, I think we were posting at the same time, but I tried to address your point in #30: Dave’s last line about the money in SLC “actually making a big difference” implies to me that he thinks the money for the poor “actually wouldn’t make a big difference.” I think this is counter to how Jesus uses this phrase.

  33. Caroline on October 9, 2006 at 6:51 pm

    I think your reading is excellent, Julie.

  34. mullingandmusing (m&m) on October 9, 2006 at 6:56 pm

    What Dave proposes for this verse falls under the realm of non-defensible readings, so I’m not going to pretend that this is a big tent we can all fit under.

    Over at ExII, Dave says:
    “That [the scripture] seems perfectly applicable to a situation where modern disciples complain about resources wasted (funds spent to maintain the neighborhood immediately adjoining our flagship temple) when they could have been given to the poor.”

    Why is that “non-defensible”? I think he is saying essentially what you said would have been fine, or what Geoff or Frank have said. (I think he tried to clarify that in comment #9 above as well.) You may not agree with his reading completely, and I can understand that (especially with the glasses you have on in your reading of it), but I think perhaps you missed what he was trying to say. Besides, can’t the tent be big enough for someone to find something that felt significant to him without having an entire post dedicated to trying to prove him wrong? Again, I think that approaching this post with the Dave vs. Julie underpinnings takes away from the interesting things you have to share in this post (and they are interesting!) Half of the discussion has focused on Dave and his intent rather than on the scripture itself. I think that’s too bad. And I really think that perhaps you (and a few others) have simply misread him. I really think he’s given enough explanation to warrant some benefit of the doubt.

    As a side note, I also wonder who can really decide what constitutes a “non-defensible reading” of a verse….

  35. Dave on October 9, 2006 at 6:57 pm

    Julie, Frank was pretty much channeling my thinking, so I didn’t continue to post (thank you, Frank, you’re a capital fellow). I commented once, in #9, because your post was specifically targeted at me (“This post is about Dave’s argument and its legitimacy.”) but I wasn’t interested in turning the thread into an argument so I just stayed out of it after that. Yes, I should have used “a drop in the bucket” as my metaphor. No, I am not from the South and I don’t speak like a hick, thank you.

    At Ex2 I was opposing an argument that could be deployed against any and every expenditure other than disbursements to the poor (and one often used as simply a stick to beat the Church with, not out of any sincere concern with the poor, although I’m sure no Bloggernacle commenters match that description and I’m not suggesting the comments here or at Ex2 were offered in that way). I think you unfairly portrayed my argument defending the proposed investment as one attacking assistance to the poor and needy. I certainly wasn’t trying to make that argument in my comments at Ex2. But I will certainly follow the footnote back to Deuternonomy 15 the next time I read Matthew 26.

  36. gomez on October 9, 2006 at 7:22 pm

    “Jesus is suggesting that the woman, although aware that his death is near and that she is, therefore, unlikely to have her kindness “repaid,â€? has “give[n] to him freelyâ€? and thus contrasts with those whose hearts are “grudging,â€? despite the fact that it is not their ointment that has been used. Their motive is comparable to those who do not lend money for fear of the impending year of release.”

    Julie, your reading of the verse seems to depend on the disciples recognizing Christ would shortly die, and therefore feeling that the annointing was wasteful. Am I understanding you correctly? If I am, doesn’t the NT suggest the disciples didn’t actually appreciate that Christ would soon be leaving?

  37. manaen on October 9, 2006 at 8:33 pm

    Deuteronomy 15.3-11 focuses on one’s motivation for lending money (which should not be to gain wealth by accumulating interest but rather to assist someone in need)

    That’s a good endorsement of the original and the current PEF’s.

  38. Julie M. Smith on October 9, 2006 at 8:55 pm

    m & m, I think my #30 answers what you pose in #34.

    Dave wrote, “No, I am not from the South and I don’t speak like a hick, thank you.”

    What’s funny about this is that I typed “ya’ll” because it is what _I_ would have said.

    No, gomez, I read it that the disciples did not understand that Jesus would soon die. I can, however, see how you would have reached that conclusion based on my last sentence that you quote, and I would phrase it differently in the future in order to make clearer that *Jesus* sees them as the ‘grudging non-givers’ condemned in Deut, even tho there is no reason to think that they knew that he would die soon. I don’t think the objectors are thinking in terms of Deut; Jesus is.

    manean, good point.

  39. Geoff J on October 9, 2006 at 9:14 pm

    Julie,

    Why do you think the two punchlines you gave in #30 are mutually exclusive? It seems to me that the point Christ was making could be that we will always have the poor with us in this world but we are commanded to do what we can to help them anyway.

    So I still don’t see what part of Dave’s comment you are saying is wrong. I think he is right that a billion dollars is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to finding a permanent solution to the problem hunger on the earth. Further, I think he used the quote from Jesus appropriately to show that there are sometimes more important and more useful things to do with financial resources than feed the hungry. In other words, I still can’t figure how Dave was “reading it wrong” as you so strongly stated in the post.

  40. Julie M. Smith on October 9, 2006 at 9:37 pm

    Geoff J,

    At ExII, read AmyB’s response to Dave and then Dave’s response to AmyB, in which he doesn’t negate the charges she made. Then note his response to my first comment, where he doesn’t engage the Deut text at all. That’s what–combined with his original comment–created the impression of his hostility toward the poor. I, of course, have no way of knowing how Dave really feels about the poor, but if AmyB had made that comment to me, you can bet your firstborn that I would have said, “NOOOOO! That isn’t what I meant!” Because Dave didn’t engage any of us on this over there, I concluded that he was somewhat callous toward the poor.

    As I’ve said from the beginning here, I think your reading makes sense. But there was no indication over at ExII that that was how Dave was using the statement–instead he seemed to be using it (and it has been used this way historically) as an excuse for not helping the poor. The fact that he was given several opportunities over there to clarify (AmyB’s pointed questions and comment, my comment, Ronan’s comment) and did not is what led me to my conclusions over here. If that isn’t what he actually thinks about the issue, that’s a good thing and I’d be thrilled to stand corrected.

  41. Dave on October 9, 2006 at 10:17 pm

    I think we just have a different approach to comments, Julie. My response to AmyB’s comment at Ex2 was to find something she said that I liked, then post a response agreeing with her on that point. When people bluntly contradict me at my own blog, that’s different, I’ll go toe to toe — I know how to defend my keep, as Theoden said. But when visiting around the Bloggernacle I try to say nice things and be generally pleasant. Even here.

  42. Julie M. Smith on October 9, 2006 at 10:24 pm

    Dave, that sounds like a very Christian approach to blogging and one that lots of people, including me, might do well to emulate.

    But, just the same, in the future, if someone asks you {as AmyB did} point blank, “Are you saying that because we can’t fix everything, we should fix nothing and content ourselves with shopping malls where we don’t have to look the poor in the face, and we can pretend there isn’t real suffering and pain all over the world?” you might want to respond.

  43. Robert C. on October 9, 2006 at 11:50 pm

    I found an interesting Vetus Testamentum (v. 42-2, pp.214-222) article by Jeffries Hamilton discussing the Deut 15 passage which I think brings an interesting possibility about Christ fulfilling the law to the anointing incident (esp. in Matt 26 since Christ fulfilling the law seems an important theme throughout Matthew…).

    The Hamilton article makes the claim that “the land” in the first phrase of Deut 15:11 is not referring to foreign lands (as some have proposed), but is in fact referring to the poor in Israel. In supporting this claim, he argues that the chapter is following a contrast-style-structure that is common in Deuteronomy and particularly evident in chapter 15. In particular, vv. 4-6 give a portrait of the ideal (with hypothetical phraseology) which is juxtaposed against the more common/realistic counter-case in vv. 7-11 (note esp. the development in vv. 4, 7, & 11 from “no poor” to “if there be poor among you” to “the poor will always be with you”). This pattern, he argues, is also followed in the manumission law of vv. 12-18—the statement of the law with horatory remarks is given in vv. 12-15 and then followed by a hypothetical case in vv. 16-18. Other cited patterns include Deut 22:13-19, 20-21 (in this case the hypothetical case leads to a new law); Deut 23:19-20 (prohibition of loans is followed by admission of loans to foreigners); Deut 23:21-23 (weightiness of vows given with contrary example in v. 22).

    Hamilton concludes “The sense of the passage in this view is that among an ideal people, obedient and blessed, there will be no poor, but should reality not attain the heights of the ideal, there is a specific attitude which one should have toward the poor (unbegrudging charity) and a certain act which one should do (freely give).” It is this aspect of his thesis that I think points toward a “Christ is anointed to fulfil the law” reading in Matt 26:11. Or, perhaps this spin on Hamilton’s idea has more interesting implications for John 12 where the the idea of ‘the corn of wheat must die in order to bring life’ is used as a metaphor for Johnanine eschatological fulfilment (alluding to complete elimination of poverty via Deut 15, which parallels the LDS “no poor among them” concept…).

  44. Jacob on October 10, 2006 at 12:23 am

    For the record, after 42 comments I have learned that what seemed to be the plain reading of Dave’s comment was, in fact, the correct one. Still, I learned something about Matt 26:11 all the same, so thanks.

  45. Alison Moore Smith on October 10, 2006 at 5:03 am

    Very interesting discussion. Julie, I found your modern rewrite interesting, but not at all contrary to Dave’s use of the scripture. Then again, I can’t seem to tell how the A version and B version differ, unless it is to say that Dave hates poor people and humanitarian contributions. I didn’t read the other blog, but I didn’t get that impression from your quotes of his writing.

    “‘A billion for humanitarian aid is like spitting at the ocean’ seems to imply that spitting in the ocean isn’t such a great idea.”

    Or that the ocean is really, really big. A dear friend of mine just got back from another humanitarian trip to Africa. The problem of poverty IS oceanlike. Even giving ALL the money the church has won’t remove poverty.

    I guess this will be the end of T&S since we’ll all be giving our computers to DI first thing in the morning and making our former ISP payments to the humanitarian fund. It’s been nice knowing you!

  46. endlessnegotiation on October 10, 2006 at 8:52 am

    I think there’s an unstated argument at work here and it’s something to which I alluded in #13. Julie seems to be staking out a position that poverty is a moral evil while she reads Dave’s position to be that poverty is a natural evil. Everyone else seems to be dancing around this subject and I don’t understand the apprehension to making the argument for either quite explicit. Julie accuses Dave of taking a “non-defensible position” yet does not demonstrate how that position is non-defensible.

    SV:

    Please, make an argument. Just saying it’s so is so unpersuasive… and lazy.

  47. rick on October 10, 2006 at 9:49 am

    The part that seems problematic to me is the metaphor of the ocean … if the ocean is meant to symbolize poverty itself, isn’t spitting in the ocean maybe just increasing poverty (the ocean) my a little bit? That is, of course, assuming that it is the wetness of the ocean that is the “bad” part. Then again, if the ocean is meant to symbolize what is currently being done to combat poverty and a billion dollars is that insignificant, there must be a lot more being done to combat poverty than i realized. I’m not sure i really understand how this metaphor works.

  48. bbell on October 10, 2006 at 11:22 am

    When Jesus says, “ye have the poor with you always,� what he is implying is, “therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, the poor.� AMEN

    I think this is correct. Jesus is not saying to ignore the poor because poverty is part of our earthly existence. He is implying to assist the poor in general. This would be in harmony with the balance of the rest of the scriptures on poverty and in harmony with church practice. PEF is in my view the most recent and important program out of SLC to alleviate poverty.

  49. Geoff J on October 10, 2006 at 12:43 pm

    Thanks Julie. Your #40 cleared up my confusion.

  50. Adam Greenwood on October 12, 2006 at 7:26 am

    Julie in A.,

    I think you’re wrong. If we just had Christ’s statement as part of a speech or something, I’d be persuaded. But the original usage in Deuteronomy makes no sense as a reason why the woman is justified in spending a bunch of cash on ointment and not on the suffering. Since as far as I can tell Jesus and the gospel writers did not scruple to take an OT phrase and give it a new meaning–e.g., ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’ was probably not a statement on the immortality of the soul, originally–I think the commenter’s interpretation is reasonable.

    P.S. Is there some danger in being heavy-handed in rebutting commenters on other blogs by name?

  51. Adam Greenwood on October 12, 2006 at 7:32 am

    Judas: Why’d you let that women use costly ointment on you instead of giving it to the poor? Huh? Hypocrite, huh?

    Jesus: Look, the scriptures tell us that since we’ll always have the poor with us, its important that we give to them openhandedly.

    Judas: Exactly.

    Jesus: But that reasoning is not a justification for giving openhandedly to me, because I’ll only be with you for a short while.

    Judas: Exactly.

    Jesus: So that’s why the woman was justified.

    Judas: Wait, what?

    [Fixed by the magical editing fairy]

  52. Adam Greenwood on October 12, 2006 at 7:41 am

    Having read the rest of the comments, I no longer have a question about this post being heavy handed. Really, is there any justification for spending a plurality of the comments bashing on Dave’s comment?

    Note to cobloggers: Could someone remove the line that reads “Jesus: That’s why its OK” in the previous comment. I don’t believe I added that, though its there, so I must have. Also, in the fourth bit of dialogue (the second one by “Jesus”), could the “to” be changed to “not”? Thanks.

    [Adam, if only children around the world will say, "I do believe in fairies! I do! I do!" then perhaps it will happen.]

  53. John Mansfield on October 12, 2006 at 8:22 am

    The allusion to Deuteronomy was but a fraction of the conversation between Jesus and his disciples. Coming with his rebuke of bellyachers, “Why trouble ye the woman?”, it seems altogether appropriate for us to allude to Matthew when people start bellyaching about how the Church spends money.

  54. Robin on November 14, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    test