"For you always have the poor with you..."

For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me.” Mark 14:7


By: J.C. Mitchell

Have you heard this scripture used to explain why you can’t end poverty?  I have.  I have had some take this very literally, though this argument does not hold water to me, and I suspect for you as well.  However, I hear this argument often through charities I support and last week I found myself at two of these organization’s fundraiser meals.  I usually attend because I find these meals to be informative, fun, and great networking for likeminded individuals in my community.  I am overjoyed at the work these organizations achieve.  I will continue to support these organizations, and thus will not name them when I point out something I heard at these two fundraisers and many others over the years. 

Before I share the statement I heard that made me think of the literal interpretation of Mark 14:7, I must share how my perspective of productivity has changed in working with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  On a personal note, my child has such a disability, and while it is true we don’t know yet how successful he may be academically, I have many friends that have children in high school, transition, or have had their child “graduate” from high school with an Intellectual and/or Developmental Disability.  I put graduate in quotes as many of these friends will have not an academic degree, but a personal achievement certificate.  This is an achievement that should be celebrated equally, but I can tell you this does not lead to high paying jobs, if a job at all; even so, it is often with a job coach and often augmented by SSI.  For parents and people in this situation, we do not measure success with money, but with finding the right place where one’s gifts are utilized for society. 

I ran into two other parents with similar children as mine who were at these same events last week, and they heard the same thing I did when at both events this line was uttered, “The only way out of poverty is education.”  Seems simple, and it is true that education is a way out of poverty; I know for my parents it was essential.  Of course I could add the joke that my MDiv has done little to improve my financial standing from my time in Real Estate, but that is not what we hear with our tuned ears.

We know education for us is not just about finding the best paying job, but making our children part of society. This is what we want from neurologically typical children as well--rich or poor.  When we hear someone speak of a poor family and hear that education is the only way out of poverty, what about the parents of these kids?  Yes, the children should help and yes, adults can also go to school.  We believe our children are valued equally, but they do not succeed academically because of their disability-- so what we hear is that our children are not considered equal. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am very much for education, and I am disappointed often when adults I meet know more about the Jersey Shore than their politicians, scientists, and philosophers.  However, for one to say, “The only way out of poverty is education,” I believe they miss the point Jesus makes in the Great Commission.  Furthermore, the statement suggests:

1.      We cannot help people in need, they must help themselves. (It’s not a hand out but a hand up).

2.      Financial productivity is the only mark of the well-educated.

3.      Ethics is not important, as we know much wealth is created on the backs of others.  Sometimes it is done illegally, but since every service and good must include the cost of labor, it is clear that those that offer only basic labor cannot afford the very thing they have labored into existence.

4.      Education is a way to assimilate others.  I am sure there are racial and ethnic realities to this[i] but I know first-hand that kids with disabilities are forced to assimilate.

5.      That privilege is something one can never give up, but somehow everyone can join the privileged class. 

The last reason is the key.  We cannot have our brioche and eat it too.  Education is key, but it should lead us out of this current system.  I felt at these fundraisers that we are selling feeling good, and that is the problem: all of these charities are competing for these funds and specific measurable such as feeding the poor or housing the un-housed and cannot really touch the systemic issues, or they will be out of a business. 

We need to go back to education, to disciple, as the great commission states in Matthew 28, by following what Jesus taught.  Jesus did not teach that productivity was the measurable, He teaches that love is the measurable.

So yes, education is the only way out of poverty, but not for an individual; it is for all of us, and we will learn that we will need to let go of privilege if we have it and embrace the ethics of love so no one goes to sleep hungry or hated.


[i] (having had a speech pathologist criticize the Pete the Cat Books because they pronounce “ask” as would be pronounced by many African Americans as wrong, and I tried to explain that it is not wrong just not the dominant culture’s way to pronounce it, and when I looked it up there was some proof that it is actually the older way to pronounce this word).