Originally published in the San Antonio Express-News, January 23, 2005
by Susan Ives
I’ve always struggled over the passage in the Bible where Mary of Bethany is about to rub Jesus’ feet with expensive oil. Judas kicks up a fuss. “We could feed a lot of poor folks if we sold that oil,” he gripes.
There’s a snippy aside, where the writer, John, reminds those of us who know the whole story that not only was Judas about to turn traitor, but also, as the treasurer for the disciples, he was known to have sticky fingers. He saw a chance to get his greedy mitts on that pint of nard and slip the profits into his own pocket. His concern for the poor was a cover for corruption.
That part I understand. It is Jesus’ response that bothered me.
“You will always have the poor among you,” Jesus says, “but you will not always have me.”
I’ve heard a lot of good Christians quote John 12 as an excuse for ignoring the poor. No use trying to do anything about poverty, they say. The poor will always be with us. Jesus said so.
This isn’t the Jesus that I know, the Jesus who invited poor people to the banquet and called them blessed.
I’ve come to the conclusion that Jesus wasn’t advising us to ignore the poor or throwing up his hands in resignation and saying that the problem of poverty was just too overwhelming to cope with.
No. He was saying that there is enough to go around. We live in a world of abundance, where we can afford to anoint his feet with perfumed oil and still care for the poor. Stop acting like we live in a world of scarcity! There is enough, and there will always be enough.
This interpretation was confirmed by a 14-volume, 3,000-page report handed over to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Monday.
Global poverty can be cut in half by 2015 and eliminated by 2025 if the world’s richest countries were to double aid to the poorest countries, according to “Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals.”
The massive report is the result of a yearlong study by 265 development experts and is designed to show “not only that it can be done, but how it can be done,” according to Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs, head of the U.N. poverty effort.
In 1970, the world’s 22 richest nations promised to provide 0.7 percent of their gross national income for development assistance. Only five countries have met the target — Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. Six others have committed to reach it by 2015 — Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Spain and Britain.
The United States is noticeably absent from that list. So are Germany and Japan.
We now spend only about 0.15 percent of our gross domestic product on development aid, Sachs said. The Bush administration has pledged $22.3 billion in aid for 2006, or 0.18 percent of gross national income. To meet the report’s target for 2006, we would have to double that figure to $54.5 billion.
I go all glassy-eyed when the numbers get into the billions, so let’s put that in more manageable terms. The average family of four is currently paying about $4.65 a month in taxes for foreign aid, which includes military aid as well as development aid. If we were to double that, it would still be less than a pair of movie tickets.
For the price of one movie ticket a month, I could eliminate global poverty. For the price of one paperback novel a month I lift the 3 billion of the world’s poor who live on less than $2 a day out of despair. For the price of a six-pack of cola I could invite the 1 billion of the world’s poor who live on less than $1 a day to the banquet and call them blessed.
And I could still afford a pint of nard because there is enough to go around. What’s holding us back?