The Church’s “preferential option for the poor” isn’t about God loving the poor more, but is about providing a counterweight to the inordinate privilege our fallen world confers on the wealthy and powerful.
The Church’s “preferential option for the poor” isn’t about God loving this individual person over that one. No, the option for the poor is about providing a counterweight to the inordinate prestige and privilege our fallen world confers on the wealthy and powerful. It is a call to justice, which in the biblical tradition implies the restoration of balance and equity in the relationships between individuals and among social classes. The option for the poor reminds the wealthy that the goods they possess are not ends in themselves, but means for promoting the common good, including the amelioration of poverty. And since both wealth and poverty are relative terms, the option for the poor is a demand that each of us, whatever our net worth, be of service to those in need.
Structurally, the poor share an intimate identity with Christ that demands our special solicitude, service, and love. It can be hard work. The poor are not always victims of ot
hers; often they are victims of their own undisciplined appetites. The poor, like the rest of us, are not generally noble. Many wouldn’t give you the shirt off their backs, but they might take yours. Still, we are called to love and serve them, not because they are lovable, but because they are our brothers and sisters, and because in their suffering – even self-inflicted – they are Christ. Jesus does not say, “I was legal, and you clothed me,” or “I was sober, and you fed me,” or “I thanked you profusely when you gave me something to drink.” Our responsibility to the poor is defined not by whether they make us comfortable, whether we see the logic of it, but by their need. After all, “God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5). We were loved unconditionally before we “deserved” it, and we are called to do the same.
Mark Gordon is a partner at PathTree, a consulting firm focused on organizational resilience and strategy. He also serves as president of both the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Diocese of Providence, and a local homeless shelter and soup kitchen. Mark is the author of Forty Days, Forty Graces: Essays By a Grateful Pilgrim. He and his wife Camila have been married for 30 years and they have two adult children.