Rep. Roger Marshall, newly elected Kansas Republican, is quoting Jesus. He’d better hope that all that stuff Jesus had to say isn’t true. Because, if it is, Marshall is in for a world of Woes, millstones, a whip of cords, and a big ol’ “depart from me” when, ultimately, the same measure he’s used to condemn the poor gets used to condemn him.
Here’s Marshall misquoting half of something Jesus said while rejecting the other half of what Jesus said and completely ignoring both the Torah passage Jesus was reciting and the fierce warning in that Torah passage against doing exactly what Marshall is doing here:
The [ACA’s] Medicaid expansion, which Kansas has not adopted despite support from many hospitals, including some of Marshall’s former colleagues, is one of the big sticking points for Republicans. Many GOP-led states adopted it and want to see it preserved in some form.
Marshall doesn’t believe it has helped, an outlook that sheds light on how this new player in Washington understands health policy.
“Just like Jesus said, ‘The poor will always be with us,’” he said. “There is a group of people that just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves.”
Pressed on that point, Marshall shrugged.
Does this make Roger Marshall a bad person? That’s not for me to say. Jesus and Moses, however, had no reservations in saying, emphatically, yes, this makes Roger Marshall a bad person.
What I can say for certain is that this tells us that Marshall has never read — or, at best, never understood — Mark 14 or Deuteronomy 15. But yet, strangely, he still feels confident enough to attempt to quote them.
We’ve been over this before many times. See, for example, “Dives will always be with us — and so will selfish rich jackwagons who misquote the Bible” and “Ignorant Christians need to STFU about ‘the poor you will always have with you’ until they can be bothered to understand what Jesus actually said.” But it seems we need to go over it again.
So, then, did Jesus say, “the poor will always be with you”? Well, according to Mark 14, that’s half a sentence spoken by Jesus. What Jesus said was “For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish.”
Right away, then, it’s clear that Marshall is bungling things because he’s drawing the opposite conclusion from what Jesus says. Instead of “the poor will always be with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish” Marshall is arguing “the poor will always be with you, so you don’t ever need to bother showing kindness to them.”
But the problem is even bigger than that. Because Jesus never actually said, “The poor will always be with you.” That’s our English translation of a Greek text translating an Aramaic speaker reciting a Hebrew scripture. What Jesus actually said there in Mark 14 (and in Matthew 26), was “there will never cease to be some in need on the earth” — that’s how our English translations render this phrase when cutting out the Greek and Aramaic middle-men and translating the Hebrew original directly.
Or, if you like, Jesus didn’t say “the poor will always be with you.” Jesus said, “‘the poor will always be with you.'” See those nested quotation marks? That’s us quoting Jesus who was, in turn, quoting something else. Specifically, he was quoting Deuteronomy 15.
Jesus was quoting the Torah to his disciples, and he knew that they would know that was exactly what he was doing. He knew his disciples — first-century, second-Temple-era Jews — were so saturated in the books of Moses that they would recognize the passage he was quoting. And he therefore knew that they would recognize the harsh rebuke it entailed.
The authors of Mark’s and Matthew’s Gospels, likewise, shared this assumption of basic biblical literacy for their readers. They didn’t see any need to insult their readers by inserting an explanation of this basic and obvious point — “that bit’s a quote from Deuteronomy.” Besides, this was Jesus yet again reciting (and appropriating) one of the Jubilee passages from the Torah, something Jesus did all the time. Here, at the end of their respective Gospels, Mark and Matthew can be forgiven for assuming that their readers should by now have recognized that pattern.
Alas, the Gospel writers didn’t realize that their words would also be read, thousands of years later, in translation, by stiff-necked greedheads on another continent whose culture, religious practice, and prideful obstinance would conspire to prevent them from ever noticing this massive, central theme in Jesus’ teachings.
And but so, if you want to know what Jesus meant when he quoted this bit from Deuteronomy, you need to look at this bit from Deuteronomy. Here’s the relevant passage, Deuteronomy 15:4-11, with a bit of bold text to help folks like Marshall understand what Jesus was quoting, and why:
However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.
If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.
So Moses says “there need be no poor people among you,” but it’s conditional. “If you fully obey …” the Jubilee laws and the other commands he’s just laid out for them, which includes a massive program of land reform, property redistribution, the safety nets of gleaning and gathering, tithes for the poor, and periodic debt cancellation. Do all that like you’re supposed to, and there will be no poor among you.
And then, a few sentences later, Moses acknowledges that this condition seems unlikely to be met. “There will always be poor people in the land” — or, as our translation of a translation of Jesus reciting this in the Gospels says, “the poor will always be with you.” Moses concedes and expects, in other words, that the people will not “fully obey the Lord your God and be careful to follow all these commands.” He expects that they will try to game the system with “wicked thoughts” about how to exploit the poor despite the Jubilee mechanisms set up to prevent that. He expects that they will “show ill will toward the needy,” that they will be “hardhearted” and “tightfisted” and “grudging,” and therefore that, despite there being no need for there to be poor people among you, there will always be poor people among you.
That’s what Jesus is saying. “The poor will always be with you” because you are disobedient, hardhearted, exploitative and devious. The presence of poverty is not some inevitable law of the universe, it’s the consequence of sin — your sin, the sin of the wealthy, not the sin of the poor. The fact that the poor are with us is a rebuke. It is evidence of our guilt and failure and wicked thinking.
So we’re left with Plan B — the generosity and open-handedness and charity that can help to mitigate the suffering of others that endures due to our enduring disobedience, sin and selfishness. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus summarizes all of that by saying, “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.”
But for scripture-abusing jackwagons like Roger Marshall, even Plan B is apparently too much to ask. He cites the first half of Jesus’ quote to argue that “the poor you will always have with you,” so there’s no point trying to do anything about that.
This is the argument we hear 99.9 percent of the time we hear anyone reciting those words from Jesus. It’s an anti-biblical, anti-Christ argument. It’s biblically illiterate, stupid and cruel. It is used, always, to harm and to deny help to others.
And, if Moses and Jesus were not wrong, then those others may appeal to the Lord, and the abusive abusers of scripture will be found guilty of sin.