Who Is Jesus Speaking To in John 12:8?

Two weeks ago I posted a provocative blog post title: The Poor Will Not Always Be With You. And I got some reactions!

Today, I’d like to invite you to take another look. Look into that moment and see who Jesus was speaking to. Look at the accounts in Matthew 26, Mark 14 and John 12.

In each case there is one sentence: “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me” (John 12:8).

I suggested that ending extreme poverty is possible and that Jesus did not say the poor would always be with US. A few folks saw that as heretical!

I wholeheartedly agree that to misconstrue the words of Jesus is heresy.

What if I said, “You will not always have Jesus”? “Jesus will not always be with you.”

I bet some comments would light the blog again — and rightly so! Because Jesus clearly says in Matthew 28, “…surely I am with you always.”

But wait a second, in John 12 Jesus says “You will not always have me.” So, which is it? We won’t have much debate on that one.

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.

The “you” meant Jesus’ immediate audience of disciples in a perfume-filled room just moments after Mary anoints him and Judas bursts out a greedy objection.

Why have we extracted the first half of that sentence and used it to foster anemic expectations for the future of the poor when Jesus was clearly not speaking to us; “Jesus replied” to Judas (John 12:7).

This isn’t just an interesting observation. It exposes a root of low expectations that profoundly hinders us.

All the readers of this blog agree that we should care for the poor. The ultimate act of caring for the poor is ending poverty. It is possible — in fact it is time to expect it. In this generation.

For readers just joining this discussion we have already defined poverty, as the Bible does, as a material condition of unmet basic human needs — as the extreme economic poverty of our era. For readers who have commented on the relationship to Deuteronomy 15, stay tuned!

8 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Anna June 17, 2021


    I repect God word that writing in old testament and the new. That one of God command. And . Jesus spoke on helping the al ooop in the new testament.we can make excuses for not doing so.but all gonna ha e stand in front judgement seat.and give account how we treated folks remember he love th er m too

  2. Melanie October 19, 2010

    The beauty of Jesus’ words here are that He is commending Mary for an act of true worship, which doesn’t need to follow man’s expectations, but only God’s. He is deeply touched by her heart, a heart that had likely given to the poor on other occasions. But in this moment she chooses to worship in another way, mainly in actually believing that Jesus was going to pour out His love for His people–a difficult message to accept, but still, she believed it. She took Him at His word, and while the context and meaning of Jesus’ words here about the poor’s presence and His own may be somewhat ambiguous and difficult to interpret, He is quite clear at other times when He says, “What is impossible with men is possible with God; Didn’t I tell you that if you believe you will see God’s glory?; and If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’ (Lk 18:27; Jn 11:40; Mt 17:20)

    Do we really believe those words? Do we believe He can bring economic poverty to an end? Do we believe that is His heart? Do we believe He will stop at nothing to release people from economic poverty, just as He stopped at nothing to release us from spiritual poverty? When we give to those in need, we’re acting on our belief that God values all people, and there is no greater worship than when we take God at His word and thus reveal His true heart. A heart that never stops revealing His love.

    I believe He can and will and is releasing those in poverty, the only question is, will we choose to be a part of such a grand, world-wide movement?

  3. Scott Todd October 18, 2010

    Hey Tiffany! I remember that discussion in Haiti too. I also remember asking our Haitian driver, “Is it possible to end extreme poverty” and he answered “yes” without hesitation. For a Haitian man just after that quake to believe it possible while American Christians (who have the resources to make it happen) to be misquoting this verse is part of my motivation. I am well – hope you are too!

  4. Matthias October 18, 2010

    I would disagree with Bob on the grounds that you took it out of context. I think you kept it in context and I think you bring up a very good point.

  5. Tiffany Morgan October 18, 2010

    Great post Scott. Very well articulated for a response to the misunderstood (but of course well-intentioned) commentors from the previous post. I remember us all discussing this late one night in Haiti. Hope you’re doing well!

  6. Bob October 18, 2010

    Here we go proof-texting… Matthew 26:11 has little to do with poverty. To twist this verse and mischaracterize it to justify social gospel is false teaching.

    Let’s put this statement in its proper context. The disciples had just witnessed a woman pour an expensive ointment on Jesus’ head, and they were troubled that she has “wasted” something that could have been sold “for a large sum and given to the poor”.

    Jesus corrects them, saying they would have many opportunities to serve the poor, whereas relatively little time remained to love Him (in the Greek text, “me” is in emphatic position — the first word in the clause).

    To paraphrase the previous blog post, “even an amateur study of this” verse shows Jesus pointing the disciples back to spiritual maturity. Like Martha, they missed seeing who was in their midst.

  7. Paige October 18, 2010

    very well written, and TRUE thoughts. as americans we tend to freely accept teh promises of Chrisianity and ignore the obligations of Christianity….good example of that here

  8. Compassion dave October 18, 2010

    I would submit that extreme poverty is only one aspect of what it means to be poor and is theoretically curable. However, theories come with an inherent danger–their functionality is directly related to how broadly they are accepted. In other words, if folks don’t buy into the theory, they won’t participate in the ‘experiment’ so to speak.

    I believe that is why the Lord would have His followers step out in faith in spite of what the theorists may or may not say. I believe Jesus was drawing a quote from Deuteronomy 15 implying, ‘”Therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.’ ”

    Truly I believe the mixing of the two earthly notions: the poor always and Jesus temporarily, was Christ’s way of saying, “You call yourself a follower? Prove it, for soon the opportunity will pass.”

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