Keeping our hearts open to the cry of the poor

Last year, Pope Francis declared a World Day of the Poor to call attention to the poverty that permeates every part of our world, including our own nation. This year that day falls on Nov. 18, 2018.

A story from the Gospel comes to mind regularly when discussion of the poor and poverty come up. In the Gospel of Mark, a woman pours an expensive perfumed oil over Jesus’ head upsetting the disciples who argue that the oil could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor instead. Jesus responds to them, “The poor you will always have with you” (Mark 14:7).

I have frequently heard this response from Jesus used to justify ignoring the needs of the poor. “Why should we have a program to help the poor, afterall, ‘the poor will always be with us,’ so it is hopeless to solve poverty.” And other similar statements.

But, they are quoting only half of the sentence of Jesus. The rest reads: “and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me.” Jesus is telling the disciples that this act of hospitality and love by the woman does not take away from the poor or prevent the disciples from giving what they have to the poor as there is enough for both.

Jesus is actually quoting from the book of Deuteronomy and referencing an admonition to give to the poor freely. I think it is important to quote the whole verse.

“If one of your kindred is in need in any community in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor close your hand against your kin who is in need. Instead, you shall freely open your hand and generously lend what suffices to meet that need. Be careful not to entertain the mean thought, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ so that you would begrudge your kin who is in need and give nothing, and your kin would cry to the LORD against you and you would be held guilty. When you give, give generously and not with a stingy heart; for that, the LORD, your God, will bless you in all your works and undertakings. The land will never lack for needy persons; that is why I command you: ‘Open your hand freely to your poor and to your needy kin in your land’.”

We may be tempted to offer many excuses or justifications for not helping those in need, among those excuses, that it is hopeless to solve all poverty and therefore throw our hands up and say, “What can be done!” But in quoting Deuteronomy, Jesus is commanding us to open our hearts. Live our lives out of abundance towards the poor, not “stingy” hearted. This does not just come by way of individual charitable acts alone but also building up institutional and governmental practices, policies and programs to ensure that the poor have everything to meet their needs.

Pope Francis, in his message for World Day of the Poor, said: “On this World Day of the Poor, we are called to make a serious examination of conscience, to see if we are truly capable of hearing the cry of the poor.” Are we stingy hearted or are our hearts open to hear the cry of the poor, and do we respond generously with hands wide open? Do we approach our own charitable acts and our support or opposition to programs meant to meet the needs of the poor with open hands freely giving to the poor, or begrudgingly giving nothing?

For resources related to World Day of the Poor and to read Pope Francis’ message, go to dbqarch.org/dayofthepoor.

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