One of the cherished mantras of Liverpool Diocese is former Bishop David Sheppard’s contention that God has a bias to the poor. But this is too incomplete a claim.
God has a bias to his creation, and a bias to the place of humanity within his creation. God has a bias to justice, not simply because God has a bias to the poor but because God knows what injustice does to both the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless.
Consider Jesus’ encounter with a young man of privilege and influence, traditionally known as the rich young ruler. Here is a man who loves God, who desires to live for God; who is aware of his need for God. And Jesus, we are told, looks into this man, and loves him. Not loves what his released resources could do for others: loves him. Jesus does not have a particular bias to the poor. But the thing Jesus knows is holding this man back from fully living the life God hopes for him is his attachment to his wealth and his own control of how it is deployed. As it turns out, this is a sacrifice too great, and Jesus and the young man part, both saddened by the encounter.
Consider also the woman who pours expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet, scandalising those who watch, who protest that the perfume could have been sold and the money used to minister to the needs of the poor. While ulterior motive plays it part, we would be harsh to judge that there was no concern for the poor. Indeed, Jesus takes for granted that there should be, in responding that the poor will always be with us, for us to draw-into a more inclusive society. But, just as it is possible to use concern for the poor as cover for embezzlement – or indeed to set out with genuine concern for the poor and succumb to temptation – so it is possible to have genuine concern for the poor without concern for God’s concerns: such a position might be expressed through genuine hatred of the rich(er than me).
God has a bias to the men and women of privilege and influence working in the London Stock Exchange, and a bias to the men and women camping outside St Paul’s Cathedral. It is both a bias of invitation and a bias of challenge: of inclusion and of judgement. Jesus compels us to look at each one with love, seeing great potential: extending the invitation to be embraced by love; and the challenge to be transformed by love.