Jesus feels at home with refugees in rafts. He travels with you in the dead of night, smuggled across borders, on guard for hours and days upon end because you’re surrounded by shady characters who will just as soon slit your throat as help you. He feels the stinging salt water splash into his eyes, shielding the face of a crying baby as the inky black ocean threatens to overtake your flimsy float that you paid your life savings to board. He looks with you, in vain, for the coast, and notices as you do the police with machine guns on shore, waiting.
He loves soup kitchens, food drives, and playgrounds in dangerous neighbourhoods. He stubs his toe on shards of glass, picks change off the asphalt with us as we scrounge.
Where people lack influence, power, and their own voice to speak to power – there Jesus walks. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps 34:18).
The Scriptures tell us that Jesus was born into an oppressed and conquered people, who had a history of being oppressed and conquered. When he gained minor local prominence, his own family doubted him, his own village laughed at him, and almost everyone who followed him apparently left eventually out of frustration and confusion. He was beaten and killed by a foreign military-political machine, with the approval and encouragement of his own religious leaders. He was thoroughly innocent, yet allowed to die as a criminal in disgrace. The illusion of powerlessness.
And yes, I am bound and obligated to mention what follows: a dramatic and supernatural bodily resurrection, Jesus as the embodiment of God on earth conquering death for us all. But this post is mostly about what came before that dramatic moment. When things were still dark. As Hebrews says, “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15).
This is why, before we vote, we should touch the poor. Perhaps the privilege of voting should be presented only at the end of a shift at a homeless ministry. Because Jesus lives among them, and his powerlessness, is only an illusion, and only temporary. He will vigourously defend them, and they will win the day. “And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, ‘Blessed are you poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours’ ” (Lk 6:20).
Before we sign a lease, before we take a job, before we marry that person. Before we run for office. Before we endorse a candidate. Before we complain that the system is rigged. Before we attempt to change a corrupt system based on greed and deception and neglect of the very poor which the system is meant to defend. We can end up passionately doing the right things for the wrong reasons, if we forget who we are and who we are connected to. If we have not touched them.
But change these systems, we must and we will. Our powerlessness, like Jesus’, is only an illusion, and only temporary. “The poor you will always have with you” (Mt 26:11) but politicians bloom, dry, and blow into the ground like the tumbleweeds. Woe to those with power, when they forget where Jesus feels comfortable, when they wish to marginalize those who Jesus walks among, and who his power defends. Their fate will be worse than we dare speak or imagine. And woe to those modern-day religious “leaders” that endorse any power that does not have the poor at the centre of its concern.