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For decades, Murphy Davis (1948–2020) advocated for people on death row and for people without homes. Here she comments on Matthew 25:31–46, a passage she saw as foundational to her community and work:   

Jesus said to his followers, “The time is coming when I won’t be physically with you anymore. You need to know how to follow me, know my suffering, comfort me, and be with me. I live with you and among you in the presence of the poor and the outsider. Serve them and you are serving me. Befriend them and you will be friends of God. Shut them out, harass them, deny them what they need to sustain their lives, and you deny God.” Simply put, Jesus was teaching the disciples that God is present among us in the poor and suffering ones: the sickest, hungriest, smelliest, most neglected, most condemned. How we treat them is a direct indication of our love of God.…  

As the Latin American liberation theologians teach us, a spirituality that is not concrete is not real.… Our spirituality is how we hammer out the meaning of our encounter with God …: here, now, in this place, with these people, in the midst of this struggle. Whatever our circumstances, God comes to us in the poor and oppressed and invites us to open up our lives. When we do share, welcome, and invite, we find ourselves in the glad company of a loving God. We are no longer alone. We are not abandoned. When we reject the invitation, we choose the path of isolation. We cut ourselves off. We might still have the food or whatever we didn’t share clutched in our hand, but when we look up, there is no one to share the meal with us. We are alone. This is essential to the nature of a liberation spirituality: always we are invited in, invited into community. [1]  

Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez (b. 1928) teaches God’s love for the poor—and all of us:  

For me, the first question of theology is how do we say to the poor: God loves you?… 

One of the central axioms of liberation theology has thus been “the preferential option for the poor.” Sometimes this concept is misinterpreted to mean that there is a competition for God’s love between the rich and the poor. This is not the meaning. In fact, the concept displays the universality of God’s love for all—a love that, in a world structured to the benefit of the powerful, extends even to the least among us. In fact, Jesus shows us that God’s love is clearest there. Like a mother who tends most tenderly to the weakest and threatened of her children, so it is with God’s care for the poor. And the call of the gospel is for us to do the same, to make the same option, to show that God’s love is universal by focusing our attention on the most threatened among us. [2]

[1] Murphy Davis, “Loving the Poor and Embracing the Radical Gospel: Matthew 25 as a Liberation Spirituality,” in A Work of Hospitality: The Open Door Reader, 1982–2002, ed. Peter R. Gathje (Atlanta, GA: Open Door Community, 2002), 21. 

[2] Gustavo Gutiérrez, “Saying and Showing to the Poor: ‘God Loves You’,” in In the Company of the Poor: Conversations with Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez, ed. Michael Griffin and Jennie Weiss Block (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013), 27, 28–29.