Herman Melville wrote: "Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed." While Melville was on the right track, he missed the mark spectacularly. His "nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor" portrayed only half of society's dismal picture. If he had gazed a bit deeper into his humanist crystal ball, he might have observed the poor's fate when "the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed" social architects endeavor to fix the "problem of poverty."
Look Further Back, Mr. Melville
One day when Jesus was sharing a meal with Simon the leper, a woman came to Jesus and anointed his head with a rare, expensive ointment(Mark 14:3). This scandalized several well-meaning, Melvillesque, onlookers who thought the gesture was a waste, and the ointment should have been sold for almost a year's wages so the proceeds might be given to the poor. But Jesus said, "Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial."(Mark 14:6-8)
As usual, Jesus spoke wisdom on many levels. Though this may not be the most profound insight from the above passage, it has the most to do with Mr. Melville's statement. Consider what Jesus said about the poor. "... you always have the poor with you." Did Jesus intend to condone poverty? Did He intend to place His own need for anointing above the needs of the poor? Did He intend to imply that generosity to the poor was less "beautiful" than pouring perfume over His head?
Despite the skeptics' vigorous nodding, nothing could be further from the truth. First, Jesus doesn't need anyone's praise; His very existence is glorious beyond imagining. Second, Jesus happens to be the only person, ever, who is worthy of such a gesture. When people feel outraged about Christians giving honor and praise to Jesus, they show their true, envious colors; various shades of green.
Alright, say we wealthy Westerners sell lots of stuff and give the proceeds to the poor. The poor, then, will invest the funds in an education to advance themselves and break the downward, culturally-poor spiral.
In Melville's dreams!
Observe the phenomenon of sudden riches in the form of a lottery jackpot. Fact: most people who buy lottery tickets are lower-earning workers or welfare recipients. Fact: many lottery winners wind up broke—or dead—within just a few years of their windfall. Fact: standing under a windfall can cause severe headaches. Okay, that last one was just to see if you're paying attention.
But this fact is sure: Money given to those who live in or near the poverty level gets spent. Then, after it's spent, the recipient wants more money to replace it—and that gets spent. The cycle of consumerism continues as long as there is money to spend, and usually, the spenders have nothing of real value to show for it ... unless one considers new cars(with no insurance), home entertainment systems, gaudy clothes and jewelry, or drugs and alcohol, things of real value.
Jesus was, as always, right-on. "You always have the poor with you." He might have added, "You can't buy off human nature." As with most problems, throwing money at poverty is like throwing gasoline on flames. Apostle Paul wisely wrote, For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:10 ESV)
Contrary to popular belief, rich folks aren't the only ones who love money. Anyone who envies someone else's wealth is a money-lover. And guess what; po-folks can be just as envious as anyone. In fact, anyone who looks askance at, or pities, "Those People," are barking up the wrong class war. Whether "Those People" are the wealthy, and should share their riches with the rest of us, or the poor, whose misery we can relieve by sprinkling some tax money on them, the very idea of "Those People" speaks of class pride, or class envy. Both are just as evil.