Fr. Pat Griffin of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission offers his reflection “Does God Listen to the Cries of the Poor?”. His thoughts here serve as a compliment to an earlier FamVin article reflecting on our ability to listen.
Vincentian View: “The Listening of God”
Last time that I had the opportunity to write something, I took the opportunity to reflect on our need to listen. In this past week, I have had my mind turned to thinking about God’s listening to us. I do not mean the way in which he hears and answers prayers (though that would also be a worthwhile consideration). No, I mean the ways in which he listens to the cries of the poor. The Letter of James has prompted that reflection, but let me begin in a different place.
We know the story of “the burning bush” and how it is the beginning of the revelation of the Lord to an enslaved people in Egypt. The Lord speaks to Moses:
I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry against their taskmasters, so I know well what they are suffering.Therefore I have come down* to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians (Exod 3:7-8)
The Lord attends to the lament of this people and acts.
Later in the Book of Exodus, in the giving of the commandments, the Lord speaks to Moses and the people:
You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely listen to their cry. (Exod 22:20-22)
And this idea is found in other places. John Foley picks up a verse from Psalm 34 and we sing the refrain: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor. Blessed be the Lord.” (vv. 7, 18). Clearly, the OT teaches that the Lord does not abandon or turn a deaf ear to those who seek him. That message finds emphasis in a variety of ways.
And that brings us to the Letter of James. His Jewish roots are universally recognized. When he writes to his congregation, he “calls out” the greedy rich:
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers
who harvested your fields are crying aloud;
and the cries of the harvesters
have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. (James 5:4)
Again we learn how the Lord focuses the divine attention on the pleas of the most vulnerable children! It is a reality to which we must give some consideration.
Do you doubt that the cries of the poor reach the ears of the Lord? These are the cries of the children who will not be allowed to come to birth. These are the cries of refugees and immigrants. They are the cries of those who cannot get adequate health care. They are the cries of those who are taken into human slavery and trafficked, the cries of those who are abused because of their race or language or religion. When these cries reach the ears of the Lord, where will he look for restitution? Where will he pour out his wrath? Are we just innocent bystanders? Is there any such thing as being “innocent” or a “bystander” in the modern era? What will the Lord ask of us? What will we say?
Does this line of thinking make you uneasy? It should. It certainly makes me afraid. As a Vincentian, I feel the need to respond to the calls of those who are poor, but the effort can be so limited. Our scripture encourages us—warns us—to be better in our response. Our God has good hearin