Over the years, I’ve come across an idea that various biblical scholars describe as “God’s Preferential Option for the Poor.” Briefly stated, this is the notion that in both the Old and New Testaments there is a repeated emphasis on God’s concern for the poor, weak, and oppressed — and a frequent call for God’s people to show compassion for those in need. And today’s readings from the Daily Office provide examples of why this “preferential option” would have been noticed:
- In the Old Testament reading (Leviticus 19:1-18), God’s Law says, “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner.”
- In today’s psalm (Psalm 72), a prayer for the king requests, “May he defend the afflicted among the people and defend the children of the needy…For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.”
- Even the gospel reading (Matthew 6:19-24), while not speaking directly to the plight of the poor and oppressed, reminds all of us, “Do not store up treasures on earth…For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also…You cannot serve both God and Money.”
None of this, of course, suggests that the poor and needy are somehow “better” than everybody else. Nor does it address the sometimes difficult question of what specific actions will most effectively bless the poor and needy and provide them with a “hand up” rather than a “hand out.” But these and so many other verses make it clear that our gracious Savior — “who, though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9) — reveals the heart of a Father who gives us not what we deserve, but what we need. And He calls us to do the same.
I wonder if God will give us opportunities today to honor him by emulating His “preferential option for the poor”? Or — since we are constantly surrounded by people in need — maybe the better question is: Will God help us to notice those opportunities? And having noticed, will we respond with the same kind of gracious generosity that we ourselves have received?