Why do we say that the poor preach us?

Sophie de Villeneuve: To say that “the poor preach us,” does that repeat the question of the gospel?

Etienne Greu: I really like that word, “return,” because there are many setbacks in the Bible. Jesus often brings out the unexpected. During a meal in the restaurant of Simon the Pharisee, a woman comes to disturb the guests, to wet the feet of Jesus with tears and scent and to wipe them with her hair (Luke 7:36-50). Indignant Simon: If Jesus were really a prophet, he would have known what this sinful woman was and would not have allowed her to. Then Jesus tells her what he did not do, unlike her: wash her feet, kiss her, and perfume her. In this scene and Simon makes this sinner an example to follow. It’s an amazing reflection. There is a lot in the Bible. Starting with the fact that the person for whom we gather in the churches was crucified, someone who was ostracized from society and condemned to a humiliating death, someone who was told that he would not be part of the human family.

← Slideshow: Jesus with Simon the Pharisee, by Albrecht Potts

But in the case of the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28), was it not Jesus himself who was overthrown?

for example: In fact. Jesus greeted a foreigner, a pagan, who chased after the group of disciples with his cries and urged everyone to heal her daughter. He sent him for a walk, and told him that he came only for the lost children of Israel, and that it was not right to take the children’s bread away and throw it to the dogs. Then she answers boldly, and very correctly, that the dogs eat the crumbs that have fallen from the table, which indicates that there is plenty of bread for everyone, including children and dogs. Remind him that his logic is not arithmetic, but hyperboloid logic. Jesus has been touched, he allows herself to be influenced and taught by her.

Is it by moving us that the poor preach the gospel?

for example: People in extreme poverty, in terrible situations, are often forced to make drastic choices and questions, which can be life or death matters. Every day, these people wonder why they are and where they are. These are important questions that most of us strive to avoid. This is how they preach to us, putting us, too, before such questions.

They also force us to reverse our view of them, to adopt a benevolent view rather than a controlling one…

for example: Yes, because if we have a lot of things that these people don’t have–knowledge, know-how, money–then they have things on their side that we don’t. If I don’t accept that reversal is possible, I won’t be able to receive anything from them. By changing one’s gaze one discovers treasures.

Saint Vincent de Paul said four centuries ago that the poor are our masters. Is it still relevant? Is this from the teaching of the church?

for example: I would say it is getting more and more. Before Vincent de Paul or Camille de Lillis, Francis of Assisi honored the poor by going so far as to want to live like them. The demand for concern for the poor is found in the history of the Church. It is more and more evident in the official teaching of the Church, since Benedict XVI: in the post-Synodal Exhortation on the Word of God there is a small passage saying that the pastors have much to accept from the poorest. As for Pope Francis, he says explicitly that the poor preach to us and that they are close to the suffering Christ that we do not necessarily have. When we listen attentively to what people are experiencing in a state of extreme instability, and when they know Christ, we feel that they are really very close to Him. When they talk about his passion, one gets the impression that they were there. It is very striking.

Should we then take care of the poor in order to preach?

for example: We have moved away from the ancient texts that defined in the primitive church the conditions for baptism, among which were visiting the poor, the sick, widows, and all the needy. I wouldn’t say it should be a moral obligation, but if you have the opportunity to get close to the poor, you shouldn’t miss it.

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