When it comes to poverty what’s your opinion? No, I’m not asking if you like it or would participate in it. Rather, what’s your opinion toward someone who is poor, in your heart of hearts? You know, the regular pan handler on the street, the can collecting guy in your suburb, the homeless guy who hangs out by church on Sunday, the people in the PADS line, the person who is in the dark about the Catholic faith, the Catholic who has clearly been the victim of poor catechesis or the Catholic who clearly believes in the “cafeteria” form of worship? What’s your attitude toward these people, right there when you’re face to face with them? Poor comes in all forms but Jesus never did mention “better poor” or “poorer poor”. As a matter of fact, scripture is clear about what our attitude should be: “He who has compassion on the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his good deed” (Prv 19:17).
The poor occupy a unique place in the economy of God. In many ways they can be a barometer to the state of our own spiritual life. Do you get annoyed when you see people in the grocery line pull out food stamps? Do you growl at the regular beggar and tell them “get a job”? Do you “tsk, tsk” in your head and think: “You wouldn’t be that poor if you didn’t have that many kids.” when that ragged family of eight appears? Do you move away when that dirty homeless person is anywhere near you?
When we are in the presence of the poor we have come into a place where God is offering us a unique opportunity. In the biblical passage of Mark 14 he even reminds us that the poor will always be with us. Sometimes the “obvious poor” are the easiest to deal with. A handful of change or a purchased meal and they’re gone, we’ve done our duty! In contrast, though, what about those who are well dressed and well fed? Maybe these are the people you work with daily or see every Sunday or are our relatives and/or neighbors? I’m taking about those who are poor in spirit, who hate the Church, or have the wrong information or simply despise the idea of God or religion. What do you do when you run into one of these? Do you judge them, get angry, vow never to have anything to do with them?
Jesus teaches us that the poor have no less dignity than you and I. They might even have more. Each time we encounter the poor in our lives we have the chance to exercise our compassion, generosity and hospitality of spirit. These are the same virtues that we all wish the Lord will show us personally. The next time you encounter a person who is “poor”, pause before you judge or reject them. Then take up the challenge of doing God a favor. You don’t believe that every opportunity God gives you to love him will be neat, tidy and painless, do you? Could it be that the poor do us all a greater service than we could ever do for them?