Who Are the Poor?

As Pope Francis continues his focus on the poor in Section IV of the Apostolic Exhortation, he asks us to broaden our concept of poverty to include many different people who are often under the radar screen. All of us would identify those who go without as materially poor. We might even be able to identify those who would be considered spiritually poor. However, as I read this section of the Apostolic Exhortation, I was challenged to recognize the face of the poor and suffering, crucified Savior in the faces of many people.

Pope Francis speaks of many. He enumerates those who are homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples who have been forced off the land that is their birthright, elderly people who live in isolation, migrants, victims of human trafficking, battered and abused women, the unborn, women who turn to abortionists for economic reasons, prostitutes, the unemployed, and many others who are voiceless, defenseless, and vulnerable because of their lack of work.

The history of salvation teaches us much about such people. When Moses acted as an intermediary between the children of Israel and their God, the covenant that was forged between them carried with it the moral imperative to care for the defenseless in their midst. God asked the Israelites to remember their own slavery in the land of Egypt. When they recalled their own distress and how God acted to free them from the oppression of Pharoah, they were to remember that there would always be people in their communities who would be just as defenseless, particularly the widows and orphans as well as the aliens that lived among them. Careful reading of the prophets teaches us that the God accused the Israelites of two sins for which they would be punished; namely, worship of idols and a disregard for the poor and defenseless in their midst. The Gospel of Matthew recalls that we will be judged upon the single criterion when Jesus returns with his angels; namely, how we treated the "least" among us.

Two Sundays ago, we read from the Prophet Isaiah. Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard (Isaiah 58:7-8). The important word that I wish to highlight here is the verb "share." While it cannot be denied that this is an adequate translation of the Hebrew, the Hebrew word has a much stronger connotation. Quite literally, it means "break your bread in two." In other words, it is not enough to throw the crumbs to the poor. Sharing with those who have little or nothing is an integral part of who we are as followers of Jesus.

Some may call this notion socialism. Others have accused the Pope of being a Marxist. The fact of the matter is that he is a prophet. By that I mean that he fulfills the classical definition of a Biblical prophet; namely, one who carries the Word of God with him and announces it forthrightly and without concern for what others may think of him. It is NOT his message he preaches. It is God's Word.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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