Poverty and the New Creation
This post is by Aaron Armstrong. Aaron is an author, blogger and speaker based in London, Ontario, Canada.
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One night, Jesus was enjoying dinner with his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, along with his disciples. Who knows what all they spoke of that evening, just days before the crucifixion, but at one point, Mary took an expensive bottle of perfume and anointed Jesus with it, pouring it over Him. Everyone was shocked, but one person chose to speak up—and this time, it wasn’t Peter. Instead, it was Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ soon-to-be-betrayer:
“Why wasn’t this fragrant oil sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?” he asked (John 12:5). Judas had a serious problem with what Mary had just done. He quickly pointed out how the poor could have been helped had she not “wasted” this treasure and sold it instead. This was about a year’s wages, after all! Just think of all the good that could have been done with that kind of money. But the thing is, Judas didn’t care about the poor. He was a thief who was stealing a part of what was put in the group’s moneybag (John 12:6). Though he had travelled with Jesus for three years, Judas did not worship Him. He did not truly know or love Him. So the idea that Mary would pour out her most valuable earthly possession to honor Jesus, that she would see Him as her greatest treasure, was something he simply could not comprehend.
But Jesus knew, which is why He would say something that would confound virtually everyone who would come to read it: “Leave her alone; she has kept it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me” (John 12:7-8).
“For you always have the poor with you.” Those seem to be some pretty fatalistic words, huh? What are we to do with them? Do we just throw our hands up and resign ourselves as those in need are left to suffer, despite the clarity about this event and our responsibilities to the poor as we find them in the larger witness of Scripture? Do we attempt to explain these verses away as not being for us, but only for Jesus’ immediate hearers—that “always” doesn’t mean always?
The truth is, I think we’ve misunderstood not what this verse means, but what is expected of us in caring for those in need. And this has happened largely because we’ve lost sight of the promise of the new creation.
The promise of what is to come
The book of Revelation leaves us with an amazing picture. Through his vision’s powerful imagery and symbolism, the apostle John gave us a glimpse of what is to come when the Lord returns: tribulation and vindication, judgment, and the restoration and renewal of creation:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.
Then I heard a loud voice from the throne:
Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity,
and He will live with them.
They will be His people,
and God Himself will be with them
and be their God.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Death will no longer exist;
grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer,
because the previous things have passed away. (Revelation 21:1-4)
This is the hope every Christian looks to as we live each day of our lives. It is the sure promise that a day is coming when all that is wrong with the world will be made right. God will dwell with humanity in the renewed creation. Our broken relationship with God, our devastated relationships with one another, our ruined relationship with the world—all will be finally and fully restored on that day. There will be no more death, no mourning or crying and no pain. All these will have passed away and Jesus himself “will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes.”
This is the hope that Christians have long been encouraged to look toward, long for, and keep our eyes fixed upon. And with good reason: without this hope, we have little to offer the world, particularly those who suffer in poverty.
How the promise matters right for those in need
The promise of the new creation reminds us that a day coming when poverty will end—but it won’t be ended by us. Jesus will bring an end to all suffering and sadness, not you and me. And recognizing this is a wonderful gift because it is the only thing that can keep us from being discouraged.
This is the hope of all Christians from the first days of the Church. This is the hope that allowed the saints of old to give their lives for the cause of Christ. This is the hope that frees us from trying to meet the impossible expectation of ending poverty through our own ingenuity. This is the hope that allows us to see caring for those in need the way Jesus does, as an act of worship. It is the best of all possible hopes we can offer the poor.
The hope for an eternal end to poverty—one not found in human effort, but in the return of Jesus, when he will make all things new and wipe away every tear from every eye. This is no empty hope. It is a promise from the very mouth of our Lord and Savior. He will do it, as surely as he has promised that he is coming soon. And it is the hope he calls us all to share. I pray we will be faithful to do so.
This is post is adapted from Aaron’s book, Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation and the End of Poverty.