“You will always have the poor among you…” John 12:8
The answer may be simpler than what we think. God has a strange habit of coming to us in disguise, and He does it for a very specific reason. Only those who have “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” can comprehend Him. They are the ones who do not see an ordinary carpenter from a middle-class home, but the King of Kings and Lord of Lords posing as one. They do not see a field, but a hidden treasure. They do not hear senseless parables, but coded messages from another world. They do not see a human being as a “pack of neurons” or a “vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules” (as Francis Crick, codiscoverer of the structure of DNA, describes us), but as a spirit being created in the image and likeness of God. They do not judge by “mere appearances” (as Christ accused the Pharisees of doing in John 7:24), but by that which lies beyond appearance. In short, they possess the mystery of faith: The ability to see the unseen, and to think and live accordingly.
I suspect that is why we have the poor. They are in our midst as a modern parable, and the way we treat them is an indication of our ability to discern spiritual reality, to see beyond the veil. Matthew’s gospel tells us that on the Day of Judgment the poor man will take off his disguise, reveal himself as Jesus, and then judge us based on how we treated him on earth. Of course this does not mean that we will be saved by our humanitarian efforts, but that the true saving grace of God manifests itself in the grace we show others. Those who have received freely will give freely.
And so the way we treat the poor is an indication of our love for God, and the degree to which we have come to terms with his love for us. How badly we need such an indication, not on the day of judgment, but well ahead of time!