What If Jesus Was Right About The Poor?

The title is the first of two questions that have been been bouncing around in my head for a few months now. It has to do with a comment made by Jesus. Here’s how it was recorded in The Gospel of St. Mark:

For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good…” (KJV)

What if Jesus was right and we can count on there always being “the poor” in every human society? Certainly communism failed in its promise of eradicating poverty. Capitalism hasn’t been a cure. The grand bargain to “end welfare as we know it” neither ended welfare nor the poverty that made such assistance necessary.

And yet, our systems of social care are based on the idea that such aid will be temporary. In that regard, they are almost all utopian. Jesus’ statement is decidedly anti-utopian. What if we embraced his prediction of the ultimate intractability of poverty alongside his call to care for those in need? 

That is my second question, which I’m still pondering. So I would like to hear your feedback.

  • What should our welfare system look like if we were to base it on these propositions: that there will always be poverty and that we should do what we can when we can to help those in need?
  • What parts of the existing welfare state should we then do away with?
  • What parts should be augmented?
  • What new programs should we develop?

Share your comments here, on Facebook, or via email and I’ll address them and more in a later post.

5 Responses to What If Jesus Was Right About The Poor?
  1. Emily Auman
    May 25, 2013 | 11:57 pm

    Seems to me there will always be poverty because people will always make mistakes. And because mental and physical illness seemingly will always exist. I believe a government that embraced the teachings would let people live it by being charitable and not make people live it by taxing and dispersing (obviously an overly idealic opinion). I think a society that embraced the idea of accepting that poverty will always exist and simultaneously accepts the call to care for others, would look like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Everyone would be asked to sacrifice and give (fast offerings) a few would be called to disperse on an individual basis entering the scene with the Love of God in their hearts and with the opportunity to walk a path towards self reliance with the help of an entire community that neither condemns nor judges while providing for immediate needs which are understood in a holistic way as temporal, social, and spiritual needs.

    Some of the key points I have found is that first of all the temporal assistance is provided by the voluntary sacrifice and generosity of a local community, not the government which is easily perceived as a large, nameless, soulless, pit of money that owes something for whatever perceived reason. Specific keys here are voluntary, local, and a group that is perceived as individuals caring.

    Secondly the assistance is directed based on welfare principles and not on laws, rules, and exact standards. For example qualification for assistance is not set by a narrow standard of current income or gender or disability status as established by a doctor, but instead is based on an assessment by an individual that is part of the givers of the charity who has the ability to assess the needs and resources and situation and abilities and perhaps even attitude of the individual. One of the driving welfare principles is of course love, which is a really key part in all directions.

    Thirdly, the charitable act is individual, completely catered to one person in one situation. Closely related to reason 2 but worth its own point.

    Fourth, its a holistic approach, not just about money. Because it recognizes money is not the solution to poverty, (the answer to poverty is a whole nother post.) It also recognizes that providing a community, providing love, offering sacrifices on behalf of the individuals, and providing opportunities to work, and opportunities to learn their purpose in life all wake up the soul. And that will do the kind of good that Jesus did.

    Fifth, its goal is not to pull them out of poverty but to provide the means for them to pull themselves out.

    Sixth, all of these things are done with humility and supplication to The All Mighty God.

    Inevitably someone will think this effort will require people to become a part of the church that is helping, and so it will be unfair and take away their agency. So let me point out that assistance is not based or predicated on membership or church attendance. A point Christ makes I believe.

    As a disclaimer, I am not completely anti government welfare, and definitely appreciate the idea of this discussion. Also, I am not an expert on the church. This is my current observations and could easily be wrong on some points.

    To continue, I say that money is not the solution. Which brings me to another thought. The thing about the example of Christ is He didn’t seem to be running around solving everyone’s problems. At the waters of Bathseda(I’m not a scriptorian), He heals one man. There were many more there, weren’t there? And in the Book of Mormon sometimes God let’s people remain slaves for a while. (Consider what He does offer in the meantime.) Perhaps there is an importance here of not seeking only to solve. Though it sounds like a worthy cause initially. And even those whose problems were solved, it was always based on their own faith coupled with the power of God. Never one without the other. What does that say of poverty? What does that say for God’s acceptance of poverty? What does that say for our acceptance of poverty? What is the call exactly from Christ? To love our neighbor, to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned. But i don’t recall where it said to not let people be poor. Do I sound heartless? No. Because loving your neighbor is worth far more than money. But how is love spelled again?

    In the end I believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ has all the answers. And I think our current government welfare is robbing people of true progress. Eternal progress.

    In conclusion my answer to your second question is if we conclude poverty will always exist the thing to do about it is care. Love. Visit. Give. These are things a governing entity cannot do. Only people can.

    • Jason
      May 28, 2013 | 4:54 pm


      Thank you for your comments. Your second set was more along the lines I was expecting: some areas/programs where government could focus. But your first set raised some questions I’d like to ask. Feel free to ignore any you’d like, but I’d be glad to have your thoughts.

      First, much of your focus seems to be on how the aid should be generated (voluntarily) and where the real focus should be (spiritual). Neither of these, for obvious reasons, fit well with government programs. That being the case, would you be accepting of (or at least open to) a government program that fit the other qualifications: local, personal, individual, and holistic (minus religion)? Or do you see this package as inseparable? In other words, is there room for a tax-funded, secular response to poverty?

      (As I type that last question it occurs to me that perhaps you’ve already answered this with your second set of comments, which do suggest some potential government programs.)

      I’m curious about your reading of Jesus’ life as someone who only went about doing limited acts of charity. This paragraph raises three questions for me: (1) Do you take this example as an invitation to limit our own charitable acts? (2) In that same paragraph, are you suggesting that lifting people out of poverty should not be our aim, only making their poverty a bit more bearable? (3) Should that be the extent of the government’s role?

      Thanks in advance for any of this you want to comment on.


  2. Emily Auman
    May 26, 2013 | 7:39 am

    While i am thinking about it I have to add a few things…

    Providing an opportunity to work is an important aspect I just skimmed over. That is something that could be emulated by government agencies and could be wildly affective. Examples are DI and LDS job services.

    Relieving from ignorance is also key to success. The government welfare system could certainly do better there. Budgeting, values, a sense of self and purpose, literacy, job skills. Some of these things are already done of course. My observations are that our society and media teaches greed, indulgence, entitlement, credit, and embraces idolatry and covetedness. These are root problems that are addressed through religion generally. Teaching values would be an interesting journey for the governing entity. I’m not sure how this could be applied, but I think it could be.

    And lastly providing access to professionals. Doctors, therapist, job services etc. I sometimes think that providing access to healthcare would be at the core of reform. But that is something I need to explore further. And I would add that the healthcare has to be founded in health and wellness, not in pill pushing. That sort of reform would in and of itself lend to better care of the poor and needy. The idea of teaching healthy practices. Overall a loaded topic but certainly one to be explored further in this overall subject.

  3. Alice Stambaugh
    May 28, 2013 | 9:36 am

    Here’s what I heard on NPR today:
    Headline: “Agency Seeks to Treat Poverty Like an Illness”:
    A social service agency based in Detroit, Mich. is working to bring its unusual approach to poverty to Arizona. Matrix Human Services treats poverty like an illness and its clients like patients. President Marcella Wilson says the first thing they ask people is: “What is your dream?”
    “So if that person wishes to be a nurse, we start with basic needs—food, clothing shelter,” Wilson said. “We then move to making sure that the client learns how to work, then learning how to read, getting a GED, financial literacy.”
    From there, Wilson says, they help the client access the other services needed to be successful in higher education. And, she says the program doesn’t cost any more than traditional service agencies.”

    My thoughts: It doesn’t really matter whether we can discover if poverty will always be with us. It is with us now and for both altruistic and selfish reasons we should address it. Of course poverty is associated with all sorts of societal ills, each one of which exacerbates the others: poor school performance, drug use, crime, health issues, etc. Because it is so complex, I think reducing poverty requires a holistic approach from many “actors”: governments, NGOs, church’s, individuals. Matrix Human Services’ approach mentioned above seems to be embracing that idea. Key ideas are providing hope to those who are poor, teaching people needed skills in a sequential manner while making sure basic needs are met, and broadening the narrow vision of agencies and individuals that attempt to address the issue too simplistically– they don’t want to spend resources or don’t have many resources or think that the only useful resource is money. And so they address only one or two consequences of poverty vs. the root causes. Individuals do this, too!

    • Jason
      May 28, 2013 | 4:57 pm


      Thanks for your comments. I’ve heard about similar new, successful programs taking a holistic view and also doing more to put those receiving the aid in the driver’s seat (in setting goals, identifying where they really need assistance, etc.). I think that’s the way the best medical practices are going and it makes sense for issues as individual and complex as poverty as well. Part of the key, of course, is having those other single-focused programs and institutions available to tap into. So a balanced approach would seem best.