Who Is Jesus Speaking To in John 12:8?

Why have we taken the first half of that sentence in John 12:8 and placed Jesus behind a lectern at a seminar on economic development while completely ignoring the second half of the sentence?

We treat the “you” in the first half of the sentence as an all-time statement to us but we happily treat the “you” in the second half of the sentence in its context.

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The Ability to Eliminate Extreme Poverty Is Just a Matter of Priorities

chart depicting global poverty levels

The Church’s ability to eliminate extreme poverty is just a matter choosing to do so. We used to say that 40,000 children under age 5 die every day of hunger or preventable diseases. Today, that number is 24,000. These statistics show that in 20 years the number of children who die every day of hunger or preventable diseases has been cut in half. Yet, the birth rate is actually going up. The population is increasing.

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The Ability to Eliminate Poverty: Is It Just a Matter of Interpretation?

Is our ability to eliminate poverty just a matter of how we interpret the Bible? John 12:7-8 is the verse that has captured our thoughts as we think about the poor. The verse that is now the most remembered about the poor.
And yet, when Jesus spoke, he was not talking to us. His use of “you” was not intended to be directed at us. This reference, this statement, was very specifically directed at Judas.

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Eliminate Poverty: Can We Do It or Not?

On the subject of eliminating poverty, how do we reconcile the seemingly conflicting messages of John 12:8 and Deuteronomy 15:4?

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Why We Can’t End Poverty

I realize that what I’m about to post isn’t going to be very popular. But I’m willing to post it because I hope it will start a healthy discussion.

Here it is: Over the past few years, I’ve heard this phrase come up literally dozens of times at missions conferences, ministry events, churches, on blogs, etc. The discussion turns to poverty and inevitably someone says “this is the generation that can end poverty.”

I don’t know if I believe that. In fact, I’m not totally sure Christians are called to end poverty. Before you go looking for handy throwing stones, allow me to explain:

First, let me say that I do believe there are enough resources in our world to take care of everyone. There’s enough food. Enough water. Enough materials for shelter and clothing.

But to make sure everyone gets their fair share, it would mean an end to greed and corruption. It would mean a massive shift in human nature. I don’t think this generation, or any other, can accomplish that.

Secondly, I don’t know of any scripture that says we are called to end poverty. We are called to fight injustice. We are called to be a voice for the voiceless, look after the orphan and the widow. But I don’t know of any verse that says we are expected to end poverty.

And third, I wonder if saying that we can end poverty is contradictory to what Jesus told us:

“The poor you will always have with you…” –Mark 14:7 (NIV)

Granted, a lot of people misuse that quote. They use it as an argument against doing anything about poverty: “We’ll always have poverty, so it’s fruitless to try to fight it.”

That’s not the point I’m making here. What many don’t know is that Jesus was actually quoting a passage from Deuteronomy. That original scripture goes on to tell us what we’re supposed to do about poverty:

“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” –Deuteronomy 15:11 (NIV)

Notice that the command is not to “end poverty” but to give. To share. And when a command is given, obedience is what’s expected.

I don’t think we’re called to end poverty. I do think we’re called to be obedient to God’s command.

It’s about taking care of those who are less fortunate. I think it’s about making sure that no child ever starves to death for lack of food, or dies from a preventable disease. It’s about making sure no one has to drink unsafe water. It’s about making sure everyone has a chance at life.

When we come together to fight poverty, God’s glory shines. And isn’t that what we’re called to do after all? Be reflectors of His glory?

My boss reminded me of the old ad campaign, McGruff the Crime Dog. Remember his famous catch-phrase? “Take a bite out of crime.” Not END crime … but take a bite out of it. I think we can take a bite out of poverty. I think we can stop some of the injustices. I’m just not sure we can end it.

Okay. Now you may grab your stones.

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