According to the Bible we read that the poor will be with us always (Matt 26.11). That is very sobering thought. Currently poverty is not just a problem in our country but throughout the whole world. With all our technology and economic strength, there yet remains a vast amount of people lacking in basic necessities.
To be sure, a vast number of people choose to be poor. It is a lifestyle choice like any other. No need to worry about an alarm clock. No need to worry about bills. With clothing, food and shelter available at various charities, there often is no worry about survival. States with warm climates and decent state “benefits” are seeing a dramatic increase of homeless people.
But yet, there are plenty of other people for whom homelessness is not a choice but an unwanted reality. And it is for these people our hearts go out: the mentally ill, those who lost their jobs and some who were simply kicked out on the street.
Given that we have, in a sense, two types of poor, in a sense, those “deserving” and those “undeserving”. Trying to separate the two, is nearly impossible for they are so intertwined, like the parable of the tares (Mat 13.29), in which pulling up the bad plants will destroy the good.
The Old Testament economy forbad farmers from reaping the edges and corners of their fields (Lev. 19.9). Nor were they to pick up dropped stalks of grain or grape branches. This provided a means for the poor to glean food. It required a lot of work at the hands of the poor to obtain food. Also, God meant for people to look out for each other when He gave the admonition for His people to love their neighbors (Lev 19.18). But even these measures were not sufficient to eliminate the suffering for much of the population. The country itself often was poor and often the few who had some form of wealth eliminated their obligation by narrowly defining what constituted as their neighbor.
Also, up until more modern times, the sense of family and community was far stronger than it is today. Generations lived within a same household so resources, both physical and economic, pooling together for the benefit of the whole family. The sick and the infirm had a place. But with the modern era, the family fragmented as people scatter across the country, and even the globe, the sense of family and community is largely lost. We no longer look at our neighbor as anything but a stranger who is the responsibility of someone else. But still even in this somewhat “idyllic age” of our nation’s past…people hungered. People lacked meaningful work.
With the 20th century we see the government taking on the role of the family, the local community and the religious community as well. With taxes the government now spends billions of dollars for various programs. To be sure, our nation has seen many successes with these programs. I doubt that you or I personally know of one person that does not have food to eat or a place to live. Those that do not work very often receive subsidies from the government. Soup kitchens and flop houses exist still.
The great social programs, while they raised the living standard of the poor, they do not seem to have made a dent in reducing the number of the poor. So much money spent with so little success. Poorness seems the Gordian Knot, a problem that cannot be solved. So where does that leave us? Should we give up?
While the poor may be with us always, that does not excuse us from not caring and not acting. While we cannot solve the problem on a global basis, we may solve it on a case-by-case basis. You and I may not “save the world” we can help one person. Not being able to everything does not excuse us for doing nothing.