"The poor you will always have with you, you will not always have me."
Kurt Vonnegut says that Jesus was making a joke here. Plenty of time to go do your good deeds. Enjoy my company while you can, because guess what? In another couple of days? I'll be dead! Jesus says of the woman annointing his head with a very expensive ointment, "She is preparing my body for burial." The joke is doubly ironic because the Gospel has it that the apostle objecting to the waste---"We can sell that ointment and give the money to the poor!"---is Judas. Behind Jesus' joke about his own upcoming death is an unspoken, "And you know that better than anyone, don't you, traitor?" And we know that pretty soon Judas is going to come into some money that he can use to help the poor all he wants.
But for 2000 years a lot of people have managed to interpret that passage not as a joke but as an argument against charity. What's the point of giving to beggars, if the poor we will always have with us? And don't even think about social or economic changes designed to rid the world of poverty! Why, it's practically blasphemy. Jesus himself said there was nothing to be done about the poor. In fact, that gospel lesson teaches that it's God's will that there be poor people. They're poor because God wants them to be poor. And why would He want them to be poor? To punish them, of course. They must deserve their poverty.
Just as I deserve to be rich.
You remember, of course, how right after New Orleans sank beneath Lake George, all the chattering apologists for W. began to splutter in unison that of course what happened wasn't the President's fault---that was a stupid place to build a city to begin with!
Flood's the best thing that happened to the place. Now we can tear it down and move it to a better location, somewhere where the weather won't ever bother it.
But then it was pointed out that New Orleans is where it was because the site is a perfect place for a port and that's what New Orleans is, a port, one of the busiest in the world, so that building it there wasn't stupid, just risky, but moving it would be truly dumb because then it wouldn't be near the ocean and so it wouldn't be a port, and besides the argument that it's stupid to build cities where there's bad weather and inhospitable geography was also an agrument for emptying out Southern Florida, the whole Mississippi River Valley, California, and all of the Midwest that sits in Tornado Alley; and then, on top of that, it became clear that the levees broke because George Bush had been busy cutting the Army Corps of Engineers' budget, so the forces of SBFB---Save Bush From Blame---had to change plans.
Well, then, it was the fault of all the people who refused to evacuate. They were stupid! They brought on their own suffering! (We'll ignore for now all the people who did evacuate and lost their homes and all they had to the flood water sloshing over George Bush's broken levees.) They did it to themselves! They should have git while the gittin' was good.
But then they had to deal with the inconvenient fact that most of the people who were trapped by the flood were trapped not by water but by gasoline---or rather the lack of it and internal combustion machines to pour it into. They were poor. They didn't own cars. How were they supposed to leave? And where were they supposed to go?
SBFB had to change plans again.
It was Governor Blanco's fault! It's Mayor Nagin's fault. They should have done more to get them out ahead of time! (To some extent this one is true.) If they couldn't do it themselves, the Governor should have declared a state of emergency and asked the Feds for help sooner.
Here a lot of Bush's would-be defenders have had the good sense to shut up and try to change the subject. Let's focus on the recovery, they say. We can play the blame game later (adding under their breaths, after everybody's forgotten about how badly the President and his gang booted this one.)
But a stalwart few have found another line of defense.
It's the poor's own fault for being poor.
Sometimes the best songs are the old songs, and this one has been a standard in the Republican songbook since the Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant.
The Party of Lincoln stopped being the party of Lincoln two days after his death. From then on out it was the party of Jay Gould, J.P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller, and its first commandment has been ever since, "The Government shalt never do anything that gets in the way of me making a whopping big pile of loot."
The Second Commandment follows from that:
"Thou shalt not ever admit that there are other people who need help that only the Government can provide because that might require the Government to do things in violation of the First Commandment."
The Third Commandment is then, usefully, "Thou shalt never acknowledge that people who need help are in fact people or at least not people who deserve my notice, help, or compassion."
Are they poor? It's because they don't work hard! It's because they don't deserve to be anything but! It's because God frowns on them! It's because they lack character! It's because they aren't like me!
There is no such thing as luck in their view. Everybody has what they've earned. I think they believe that if they'd been born to hill people in the jungles of Borneo, orphaned at an early age, and raised by a tribe of orangutans they'd have still grown up to be stockbrokers and corporate vice-presidents.
Related: Googling my way to the best wording of Jesus' joke to Judas---You know, the Bible is the literal word of God and all that, but I wish He'd pick one good translation and stick with it. For an omniscient beng He sure doesn't seem to know the best way to put things in English---I came across a post from December by Steve of Ragamuffin Ramblings who was frustrated with someone interpreting the Gospel in that good old Republican way. Steve has a slightly differnet take on what Jesus' was saying. He doesn't see Jesus as being as much of a smartass as Vonnegut and I do. But his conclusion is the same: Jesus wasn't giving anyone permission to not bother to help the poor.