John 12:8 “You will always have the poor among you, but you won’t always have me.” (CEB)
Pope Francis (Evangelii gaudium) states that “Without the preferential option for the poor, ‘the proclamation of the Gospel … risks being misunderstood or submerged’.”
As a Presbyterian, I am firmly committed to the preferential option for the poor, the marginalized, the dispossed. I can’t help but wonder, however, how an all-powerful (omnipotent) Supreme Being can be the source of anything other than a preferential option for the rich and powerful. Indeed, any close reading of history would suggest that God is always being interpreted as being on the side of the winners, the powerful ones – e.g., the divine right of kings; the hierarchic structures of religious bodies; the preferential status of clergy over laity.
What kind of God would give preference to the poor? What is it, in our understanding of God, that would suggest that justice requires leveling the playing field for the disadvantaged and including at the very center of society those who have been marginalized?
In 63 BCE Pompey entered the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple and suggested that, according to Tacitus (Book V of The Histories), “the Sanctuary was empty and the Holy of Holies untenanted.”
The early Christian movement relocated the tenancy (residence) of God, the all powerful One, to Heaven. Galileo’s scientific inquiry and support of Copernicus, served an eviction notice on the Heavenly abode.
John Shelby Spong put it this way, “Once the credibility of God’s invasive, miraculous power was called into question, the entire theistic framework of religion began its accelerated decline. The deity, defined theistically, who had been rendered “homeless” by Galileo, was now rendered “unemployed” for all practicable purposes by Isaac Newton.”
I find the idea that God is homeless and unemployed to be intriguing, compelling. It actually solid footing for Israel’s concern for widows, orphans, and strangers; and for Yeshua’s penchant for the poor, the marginalized, and the disempowered.
Caputo’s dictum (“God doesn’t exist; God insists.”) is a logical extension of God’s status as homeless and unemployed. Instead of a Being resident in Heaven, or in a religious building or shrine… instead of powerful force that interferes in history to “fix” things and bend circumstances and people to fit His [sic] divine plan… instead, we sense an inner urging, a nudge, a prodding, an elbow poking our passions and priorities, a calling to be open to new possibilities – including the possibility that we have much to learn from Native Americans, women, Blacks, Asians, LGBTs, immigrants, homeless veterans, and people with disabling conditions, if only we given them access that doesn’t disadvantage them (which also disadvantages us, as well).
Isn’t it strange, that princes and kings,
and clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
and common-folk like you and me,
are builders for eternity?
To each is given a bag of tools,
a shapeless mass and a Book of Rules;
and each must make ‘ere time has flown,
a stumbling block or a stepping stone.
R.L. Sharpe, “A bag of tools,” circa 1809