I once heard God’s option for the poor and vulnerable explained like this:
Picture a parent who has two children. One gets hurt. The parent turns and runs to help the child crying out in pain. There is no less love for the other child; both are beloved. But instinct and wisdom compel the parent’s care and concern toward the one in greatest need.
When I became a mother myself, I felt this change in my bones: how the cells in my body turned me toward a newborn’s wails, a baby’s cries, a toddler’s tantrums or a child’s injuries.
I did not love my other children any ounce less when I focused on the one who needed me most. I would have given my life for any and all of them in a moment’s notice.
But I knew — in body, heart and soul — how I had to care for the one who cried out.
As my children grew, a remarkable thing happened. While I comforted one in my lap, I would watch their siblings learn to come over and join the moment of care. First a toddler’s token pat on the baby’s back, then an older brother running to the freezer for an ice pack for a younger brother’s bruised knee or skinned elbow.
They were learning the option for the poor, too.
Make no mistake; I am raising humans, not angels. In a family of five kids, sibling squabbles erupt all day. Most of the time their apologies and care are parent-prompted, begrudging, even bitter.
But once in a rare blooming moment, I watch a tender shoot of genuine comfort rise up. An older brother hugging a younger one, whispering comfort through wails.
The smallest miracle of compassion. The willingness of the unhurt to suffer with the hurt.
I have seen this wonder flash before my own eyes enough times to know we can do it. We become humans at our best when we care in genuine ways for those who suffer. Beyond mere pity, compassion means a willingness to sit down and draw near to the weeping, the wailing or the wanting.
To drop whatever we were doing and rush to the ones in need.
Scripture tells us that God has particular care for the poor — not an exclusionary affection, but a focused concern like a parent running to a child who is sick or hurt, the one in greatest need.
We know that Christ would — and did — give his life for all of us. But we also believe that God draws close to the brokenhearted (Psalms 34:18-19). The Lord hears the cries of the poor (Job 34:28). The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the God of the widow, the orphan and the foreigner: all those left behind on society’s edges, all the forgotten and forsaken (Exodus 22:21-23).
Recent weeks have brought deep suffering around the world, from Afghanistan to Haiti and everywhere that COVID-19 continues to ravage. We can feel overwhelmed by such staggering threats, grief and pain beyond our control.
But when we picture God as a loving parent, hearing the cries of those in need and coming to their help, we can also remember God’s joy when we learn to follow and do the same.
Our prayers, almsgiving and efforts to help those in poverty or pain may feel like a mere pat on the back. Yet each time we reach out, we are growing in our understanding of the mystery of God’s option for the poor.
Sometimes we are the ones suffering; sometimes we are the ones drawing near in compassion.
We are all God’s beloved children. Love compels us toward each other.
Laura Kelly Fanucci is a writer, speaker, and author of several books including “Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting.” Her work can be found at laurakellyfanucci.com.
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