Hearing the Scriptures Anew
There is few things I enjoy more than learning something new and I would like to share what I learned last week.
Since Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 26:11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me, it has often been interpreted to say that we should do nothing about the poor, because Jesus said they will always exist. On Thursday last week I attended a conference sponsored by the Presbytery of Boston and presented by Rev. Liz Theoharris founder of the “Poor People’s Campaign.” She shared with the group that some people have even been angry with her in working to eliminate poverty because Jesus’ statement means that we must always have poor people. The day was spent unpacking and trying to understand what Jesus was actually saying in this passage.
The first thing we need to do is to understand where this phrase appears in the Bible. In Matthew it is part of the story of Jesus’ anointing by a woman never named with a jar of expensive oil in Bethany just before the Last Supper. The disciples complain that this act was too extravagant and the money should have been used for the poor. Jesus then says the poor will always be with you. Liz asked us to look at what comes right before this reading. It is the story of the last judgment where Jesus condemns those who have not taken care of others in need. She then asked us if we knew what passage out of the Old Testament to which Jesus was referring. We then looked at Deuteronomy 15:11, Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’ (Emphasis added). This passage is also preceded by how a society should be organized to continually help people out of poverty (read Deuteronomy 15:1-11). Clearly Jesus was admonishing the disciples by quoting from one of the strongest statements in the Bible about working to change the plight of those in need.
I have also been greatly enjoying reading the recently published book by Amy Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, “The Jewish Annotated New Testament” for which over 50 Jewish scholars have written explanatory essays. For Christian readers The Jewish Annotated New Testament offers a window into the first-century world of Judaism from which the New Testament springs. (Oxford University Press). I have learned much as I have read this book. Jesus was Jewish and he knew his faith well. Just as he drew on Deuteronomy 15:11 he draws on the scriptures of the Old Testament in almost all of his teachings. We really cannot understand what he is telling us today without understanding what his base was then.
To help us better understand the teacher, and Savior we love so dearly Sureshkumar and I will be offering a Bible study on “Jesus and the Old Testament” during Lent this year and we invite you to join us. The Bible Study will be on Wednesday evenings starting February 28 through March 21 at 7:00pm.
In Christ’s Peace,