The Poor you have with you always

11 May

This week the Australian government announced its annual budget.
With much fanfare, they have announced a spending spree. The government coffers are sloshing with money, and so there’s an income tax cut for everyone: for about 90% of workers, it  means  $10 a week – almost enough to  pay the big increases in petrol prices. For  the top 5% of workers, well they will just have to cope with an extra $100 a week.
The roaring profits of corporations dealing in minerals and oil is the main reason: China is going gang-busters, and so companies digging up and selling these commodities are doing fabulously, paying their taxes and we all benefit.
Kind of.
No one wants to know what will happen to it all the day commodity prices go south.
The government is obviously expecting that some one else will have to deal with that. (Do they really mean to imply that one day they will finally lose office? Or just that these individuals will have taken their pensions and gone to their rewards?)
BUT, what has driven me to write is the astonishment of finding, both in the budget presentation, and the comprehensive reports in the papers, and the reasonably hopeful response tonight by the Leader of the Opposition, not a single word about foreign aid.
There had been a suggestion that they would at last double our nation’s paltry effort,taking just a first, pathetic but nonetheless real step towards the millenium goals.
Not a single word. Not a whimper. Not a mention.

Now we know that our Federal Treasurer had a good upbringing in a Baptist Sunday School, and indeed attended a Baptist Grammar School.
Was it there that he learned the words of Jesus, in Mark 14, 7 ‘For you always have the poor with you’.
A woman admirer of Jesus had just lavished upon him a very expensive jar of perfumed ointment. The passage gives the sense that this was something like a life’s savings.
Judas declares: What a waste! This could have been sold, and the money given to the poor.
But Jesus says that they should leave her alone, ‘the poor you have with you always, but you will not always have me.’

Is this a biblical justification for saying: There are always going to be poor people, always going to be more you could have done for them. Sometimes you just have to let it rest, and have a good time? In other words, spend it on yourself!

I fear that this is exactly what we have done.
God forgive us, when such small amounts of money could save the lives of millions of children born with Aids; when so little can provide clean water for a whole village, when my tax cut alone could put a child through high school.
What has happened to us? When and how did we become so selfish?
Not one journalist, not one media commentator has said a word about the self-centredness of it all.

Jesus’ words suggest that we must not always be so calculating as Judas: sometimes it is indeed appropriate to be lavish. But it is not lavishness on ourselves: it is the outpouring of generosity, of love, of gratitude.
More than that, Judas shows that in fact he knows nothing about ‘the poor’. For indeed they are the most generous people in the world. They understand. ‘The poor you have with you always’, is in fact a blessing: for it is they who will teach us to be grateful and perhaps even to share a bit.

4 thoughts on “The Poor you have with you always

  1. The depressing part is the lack of interest from any party – not that long ago everyone was up for jumping on the Make Poverty History campaign, but now there’s nothing. When the budget came out I scoured through the paper (The Age) to see if there was even a mention of foreign aid – nothing. It’s not just our politicians who have failed us, it is our media, and by extension, ourselves.

  2. Frank and Geoff,
    I had the same experience of searching for word on foreign aid so I could write about it on my blog…problem was – I couldn’t find anything!
    Frank, I share in your prayer for forgiveness.
    Geoff, when you say It’s not just our politicians who have failed us, it is our media, and by extension, ourselves, I know what you mean and I agree.
    However, it makes me think of a point my local TEAR group will be making to politicians in a couple of months: the idea that the average Australian will not ‘allow’ the government to increase foreign aid is a furphy.
    Recently, some people in Qld asked people on the street about their views on foreign aid. Most believed aid was important, but felt Australia gave too much. When quizzed as to how much would be appropriate, many responded “only 1-2 per cent”. Of course, this is 7-8 times the amount we actually give in ODA (0.28%)!
    As a result of this, the University of Queensland conducted some research in Brisbane which also suggested that most people (66.9%)did support an increase in aid…
    So why is this not happening?

  3. Frank (Dad),
    The most concerning thing to me is that the politicians are simply acting on the public’s will. There is no social pressure to raise foreign aid, and therefore no attention is paid to it. The honest fact is that, despite their replies in surveys, the Australian people don’t seem to care enough about foreign aid to do anything about it. Perhaps if there was enough community pressure to raise our spending on this issue, there would be more spending on it. But that will never happen until the population cares enough about these issues to actually get up and do something about it. The few voices screaming to save these people are lost among the disinterested murmurs of the general public.
    -Flik.

  4. Flik, I agree with you that there is a lack of will amongst the general Australian public. Yet, most of us are unaware of all sorts of things the government does. I think the government often acts despite the public’s will – sometimes simply because the public’s will is a non-issue.
    Certainly, most of us would have no idea if the govt. increased the level of foreign aid delivered to 0.5% or 0.7%.
    So I agree, but also think those in the know (politicians) must not be let off the hook simply because an ill-informed public isn’t kicking up a fuss.

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