Bottom line: Jesus identifies with the poor, the brokenhearted; he wants us to do the same.
Sometimes people ask where Jesus would be if the Incarnation happened today rather than the First Century. One guy said that Jesus would be involved in the world of the communication - television and movies. That would be the best way to get his message across. Others speculate that he would be in Wall Street or perhaps in some political career since business and politics are so decisive in today's world. However, if a person has read the Bible, it is clear where Jesus would be today. Jesus would be with the poor. The media, corporations and political offices can all do much good - and they all need the involvement of Christians. But Jesus himself would not be there. He would be with the poor.
The Bible makes clear that God has a particular love for the poor. Today's Psalm say, "The Lord hears the cry of the poor." Sirach expresses it this way, "The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds." Although God does not despise the rich and powerful, he has a special place in his heart for the poor and the lowly. If Jesus were walking the earth today, he would be with the poor. That is where he wants his followers to be.
I saw a beautiful example of this when I was down in Peru. I had the chance to spend some time with Fr. Alfonso Berrade. He is pastor of San Clemente Church in Pisco. When the August 15 earthquake struck, the church roof fell, killing about a hundred people. The town itself looked like a German city after the World War II bombings. Fr. Alfonso could easily have gone to Lima where his congregation has a comfortable center house. But he did not. He stayed in Pisco, living in a tent like the majority of the townspeople. Fr. Alfonso not only helped bring material aid to his parishioners, he did something more important. He gave them guidance and hope. I heard him give a beautiful homily. He told the people that they must not only rebuild their homes, but also their relationships. The city one day will have new parks and marketplaces, but what it most needs is new relationships - to live as brothers and sisters.
Fr. Alfonso is not a young man. He is in his late sixties, but he shows no sign of slowing down. By Peruvian standards he is tall - and he seems like a natural leader. In fact, he was superior of the Vincentian priests, brothers and sisters for a number of years. But he wanted to return to being a pastor, to work with ordinary people in their needs, struggles and joys. He received his wish. He was assigned to San Clemente Parish shortly before the earthquake struck. The Lord obviously wanted him there at that precise time. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
Now, I am not saying that the Lord does not want Christians to be involved in administration, business, communication, the arts, politics and so on. We need dedicated Christians in all those fields. But wherever a person finds himself, it is important to remember that the Lord has particular love for the poor. The Latin American bishops recently reaffirmed the "preferential and evangelical option for the poor." Our own American Bishops - even though we live in a society with greater material blessings - have also spoken about the importance of us being with the poor.
You know, sometimes we can think we have everything together, that our health and retirement plans give us security against any adversity. We may even imagine that we are the winners in a Darwinian struggle for survival - and supremacy.* That is all baloney. Ultimately, you and I are in the same position as the poorest of the poor. That is the point of Jesus' parable today. The one who exalts himself will be humbled and the one who humbles himself will be exalted. Jesus wants us to be with the poor, the brokenhearted, so that we can learn our true place before God.
*Mark Shea gives a summary of this way of thinking. Here is a quote from a lengthier article (well worth reading):
It will be noted that Schopenhauer's philosophy sounds a great deal like Charles Darwin's in that both insist man is, to quote one classic definition, "the result of a purposeless and materialistic process that did not have him in mind." According to Darwin and his many proponents, man was nothing other than the result of a mindless interaction of matter and energy whereby those traits best adapted to survival were passed on while those species which lacked advantageous traits were killed off by natural selection. No loving Creator was involved, just the random accident of matter and energy.
However, it will also be noted that Schopenhauer died in 1860, the year after Darwin published his Origin of Species. So Schopenhauer is not deriving his atheism from some new scientific discovery disproving the existence of a Creator God. Rather, he demonstrates he was living in an age whose elites were already ripe to hear that nature, not God, was the basic principle of our existence. Darwin simply lent (or seemed to lend) scientific credibility to that fundamentally metaphysical judgment. Darwin, more than any other thinker in the 19th century, gave force to the idea that human beings were not creatures made in the image and likeness of God, but were instead simply unusually clever pieces of meat whose brains, heart, and body and soul were as much the result of a series of accidents as the shape of a pig's nose. In the words of his disciple, Ernst Haeckel, the "modern science of evolution has shown that there never was any such creation, but that the universe is eternal and the law of substance all-ruling." Accordingly, "the myth of the conception and birth of Jesus Christ is mere fiction, and is at the same stage of superstition as a hundred other myths of other religions." For, according to Haeckel, when Darwin "shattered the dogma of anthropocentrism" by allegedly showing human beings to be as much a product of chance every other species on earth, he smashed the "boundless presumption of conceited man [that] has misled him into making himself 'the image of God,' claiming an 'eternal life' for his ephemeral personality".
From Archives (30th Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
40 Days for Life (September 26 - November 4)
Patients and Students Helped by Mary Bloom Center
Visit to Site of Peruvian Meteorite
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Pictures from Peru
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Centro Mary Bloom