Jesus’ statement ‘You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me’ could easily be regarded as a shrug of the shoulders in the face of the enduring problem of poverty. However, closer examination of the context of the statement in John’s gospel reveals a more compelling picture.
In the incarnation of Jesus, all our systems of social stratification—all our means of exploiting, oppressing, and humiliating one another—are revealed to be lies. Mary expresses a ‘Christmas revolution’ in her Magnificat, a vision for a radically different way of living decisively ushered in by God’s becoming one of us in Christ.
For those living in powerful nations, for those prospering in the global economy, our response to the Reign of Christ Sunday might better be one of repentance than triumph, of humility rather than arrogance. For the reign of Christ stands in opposition to our own reigns, as the world is turned upside down, bringing judgment for those in power and justice for those who have suffered.
Like Jesus’ disciples, too often we are preoccupied with competing for cultural power and influence in a half-sighted manner. Bartimaeus, the healed blind man, presents a model of a more faithful form of discipleship, one that will follow the way of Jesus, wherever that path may lead.
Although the Apostle Paul’s discussion of our struggle against rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places may strike many readers as a relic of a primitive cosmological outlook, it is fiercely relevant in our own day, where white supremacy functions as just such a power. Ta-Nehisi Coates has spoken of the illusions and lies undergirding the American Dream and, with the Apostle, calls us to awake to and struggle against the forces and ideologies that bind and enthral us.