In the Gospel of St. John 8:12, the Lord Jesus states: “The poor you will always have with you.” Some interpret this passage to mean that there is nothing that we can do to ultimately alleviate the suffering of the poor in this world. They have always been there, and they always will be there.
However, we need to understand that the Lord is actually hearkening back to a passage in the Old Testament: “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be… For the poor you will always have with you in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” (Deut. 15:7-11)
What the Lord Jesus is really doing in stating this is something radical: He who is the very Incarnation of God, omnipotent, omniscient, he has chosen to become one like us, a man like us in all things but sin. The Lord is identifying completely with the poor. When we help those who are genuinely poor and in need, we help the Lord, who goes as Head of his Body, the Church, and identifies with his members.
Pope Francis has declared Nov. 19, 2017 the first World Day of the Poor. He wants to “encourage believers to react against a culture of waste and to embrace a culture of encounter.” His desire is that this encounter will be one of “friendship, solidarity, and concrete assistance.”
The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization is coordinating this World Day of the Poor and is asking each diocese to participate. We ask that parishes get involved by concretely helping the poor, getting to know the particular plight of the poor, and to recognize that the poor include some of our brothers and sisters who worship right next to us in Church.
St. Augustine implores us, “Give to the poor whatever you will… As I am going to and from the Church, the poor importune me, and beg me to speak to you, that they may receive something of you. They have urged me to speak to you; and when they see that they receive nothing from you, they suppose that all my labour among you is in vain”
May we always see the face of Jesus in the poor whom we encounter.