Jesus and his option for the Poor – a reflection on Mark 10:17-31

by Matt Cairns

Most of us are good people – we obey the laws, we are nice to each other, we are honest, and we try not to hurt others. In all honesty, we’re pretty good people. We could easily say to Jesus:

“Teacher – all of your commandments I have kept since I was a child.”

But we probably wouldn’t say that, just in case Jesus decides to look upon us with love and say:

“One thing you lack – Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

I wonder if he did whether we would protest about how much we give to the poor and how we sacrifice so much at Self Denial, how we always give the beggar a dollar or two, and we even give extra by giving to World Vision – or whether we would just leave, head lowered with fallen faces.

Poverty is endemic and everywhere, and Jesus was certainly not implying that having wealth was inherently wrong or giving it up would solve all the issues poverty creates. But he was telling us something through his encounter with the rich young ruler as retold in Mark 10.

When Jesus said “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” he wasn’t just talking about the ‘Bill Gates’ or ‘Rupert Murdochs’ of the world – he was talking about you and I – about all who live in relative wealth, and how there is a danger that living in such prosperous comfort can make us immune from the cry of the poor. Pope Francis explained it like this:

“Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us…” (Laudato Si’ 54)

The culture of prosperity deadens us…’ – such a powerful observation and one that rings a little too true. Currently it is estimated that 1.2 billion people survive on less than $1 worth of resources per day. In my own developed nation, more than half a million children currently live in poverty, and in our Aboriginal communities the rate of living in poverty is far higher, with 1 in 5 living in poverty. And tonight, more than 100,000 Australians will be homeless and in search of safe refuge – but I will eat well, be warm, and sleep soundly – somewhat uncomfortable that ‘I have’ while others ‘have not’ – yet I fear the culture of prosperity deadens me…

In thinking about my relationship with the poor I am challenged by the Catholic notion of ‘The Preferential Option for the Poor and Vulnerable’ which stresses that each Christian must make a choice to lift up the poor and disadvantaged in very real and concrete ways. It means we are called to look at the world from the perspective of the marginalised and therefore not our own. It means that in all aspects of living, we are called to preference the poor over ourselves.

That’s a tough calling, because it means we need to challenge the way the world works – and that world currently works very well for those of us who have plenty. Yet Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 10:24 that “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” and Jesus challenges us to “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:33-34)

It is counter-cultural to deny self and preference others – It is not how this world works! Yet Jesus challenged the cultural practices of his day and so as a follower of Jesus I am called to give up my own interests and take up his. I am called to give up my kingdom and build his. I am called to be alive to the cry of the poor and so therefore I am called to preference the poor and abused and needy and orphaned and widowed over my own needs. It’s a calling not of this world – but certainly of God’s Kingdom.

So today –

  • Does the culture of prosperity deaden you to the cry of the poor?
  • How can you preference the poor over your own needs and desires?
  • How can you live our Kingdom values and not worldy ones?


“To live with Jesus is to live with the poor. To live with the poor is to live with Jesus.”

  — Jean Vanier, philosopher and theologian





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