There’s a meme going around where Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor,” and someone interrupts him, “no, Jesus, blessed are all people.” The meme poignantly illustrates the insensitivity of the phrase “all lives matter” as aresponse to Black communities’ pain and anger. But the meme also brings two key Gospel themes into tension: God’s love for each and every one of us and God’s particular care for those who are in need.
Throughout Scripture, God seems to give special attention to those who are poor or otherwise oppressed. God reveals Godself in stunningly intimate ways to slaves like Hagar, sex workers like the woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, and countless poor and disenfranchised people. God profoundly meets them in their distressing circumstances and offers transformative gifts of healing, comfort, forgiveness, and freedom. Liberation theology describes this theme as “a preferential option for the poor.” But what does this mean? Is it only the poor in spirit, the meek, the mourners, and the oppressed who are blessed?
Personally, I resolve this tension by looking at what it means to truly love. James writes, “If one of you says to [a sibling who lacks food or clothes], ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what of that?” The truth is that you cannot love your sibling without caring for their needs. “Good vibes” or even heartfelt prayers fall miserably short when we accept circumstances that cause our siblings to suffer. And God’s love never falls short.
Yes, God’s love for us is universal: there is not a person, rich or poor, gay or straight, man or woman or any other gender, of any race, physical ability, or family status that God does not love completely. But God’s love is particular. God does not merely send us love like God sends the rain, which falls on everyone alike. God’s love also meets us in our special needs and cares. Those who mourn will be comforted. The meek will inherit the earth. Of course God cares for me as I walk down the street, but God cares more that my Black siblings in New York City will be stopped and frisked for doing the same thing, while police officers merely smile at me and say, “bonne journée monsieur.”
Pride Month offers another illustration. We don’t have “straight pride” because people have not had to fight for the right to be heterosexual. And in the case of LGBTQ+ Pride, the term is not a synonym for arrogance, but for self-acceptance. While “pride” might be an inappropriate or harmful trait or some, for others, it is a needed correction to the oppression that we have faced.
It seems to me that those who shout, “all lives matter” have not read the Magnificat. Mary boldly proclaims that God “has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” If the rich already have what they need, they do not need more. But God gives extravagantly to the poor and leaves the rich in their self-satisfaction, because God’s love tends to each person’s needs.
As we watch the news, protest, give money, sign petitions, and pray this week, let us pay special attention to those whose needs are greatest. Let us recognize the spaces where we can afford to be sent away empty, but our siblings desperately need to be fed. It won’t look the same in every situation, and there are so many justice issues to which we can devote our energy. But if we hunger and thirst for righteousness as we listen to our oppressed siblings’ pain, Scripture promises that we will be filled.
— Alex Griffin