Today’s first reading uses nouns that are becoming too common to us both in our societies and in our countries: stranger, widow, orphan, and poor neighbour. In ancient times just like in our own, these nouns were a sign or a reflection of helplessness and poverty. The rich and the powerful usually align poverty with fate or laziness, but we know for sure that in most societies and countries, poverty is a result of structural injustices that privilege some while marginalising others.
The Church calls its members to give preferential option for the poor. This means we should think first of the needs of those who are most vulnerable. The poor and vulnerable have a special place in the kingdom of God. Putting into practice the preferential option for the poor means considering the impact of our decision and of public policy on the most vulnerable members of society.
Christ taught that when we feed the hungry, offer hospitality to the stranger, clothe the naked, look after the sick and visit those imprisoned, we are looking after Him. Pope Francis teaches that the measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty!
In her social teaching the Church insists that the poor and vulnerable should have a special place in the hearts and actions of her children. Christian tradition calls us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first. We are called to respond to the needs of all our sisters and brothers, but those with the greatest needs require the greatest response.
In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches us that our response to the cry of the poor, the helpless, and the vulnerable, should always be love. Love of God and of our neighbour is the only response that the Christian should always give. As children of God we should always resist the temptation of taking advantage of the poor and the vulnerable. The temptation to use them as slaves with the sole purpose of enriching oneself. The temptation to push them further to the margins of society and not wanting to hear their voice. We also need to do away with the mentality that we are doing them a favour by helping them.
For us Christians, this is not a favour but a duty and a calling. St. Ambrose put it: “You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.”
As Christians, we need to always be on the side of the poor. We need to consciously acknowledge, fight and conquer the forces of greed, violence and death that crush them. Our love response calls us to do away with the structures that push people to vulnerability, helplessness and poverty. As Christians we need to teach ourselves to be able to see Christ present in the poor and marginalised, and join their struggle to end poverty and pain.