...any more than He loves the rich! (I hope you made it to the latter part of the sentence!) Because of Jesus, those of us who follow Christ have a special place in our heart for the poor. We see the outcast and downtrodden in society, and something in us cries out. If you’re like me, you feel like there is so little you can do, but you are compelled to do the small things you can to try to make a difference to those who come across your path.
And, of course, God has a soft spot for the poor. In Jesus’s day, poor people lived under a double curse. First, they had to deal with the economics of being poor. Second, they lived in a society where the prevailing religious viewpoint was that riches were a sign of God’s favor; thus, if you were poor, you were "a sinner." So that’s why Jesus made a special point of reaching out to the poor, to show that God loved them just as much as the rich.
We see that in Exodus 23 as well. God commands the Israelites to provide justice for the poor: "Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits." (vs 6) He also commanded the Israelites to farm their land in a way that would benefit the poor: "For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it." (vs 10-11)
This is expected from God, the Champion of the Underdog! But then, Exodus 23 also includes this curious command: "Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit." (vs 2-3) I think God must have known that many people, when seeking to do good, have the tendency to take it too far. Having climbed out of one ditch, we’ll veer across the road and happily smash into the other.
God commanded the Israelites to care about the welfare of the poor because, left to their own devices, they would have been much more likely to cater to the rich. (Hmmm... perhaps not much has changed!) However, God’s ultimate aim was to teach the Israelites about doing what was right. He certainly didn’t want them to cater to the rich in neglect (or abuse of) the poor! But neither did He want them to treat a rich person unfairly for the sake of a poor person... just because they were poor.
These commands are rooted in the way God sees us and treats us. In His eyes, we are all equals. He doesn’t love poor people more than rich people. And He doesn’t love rich people more than poor people. He loves us all equally. He provides for the needs of everyone, not just a select few.
God is no respecter of persons — rich or poor. When He looks at us, He doesn’t see labels. He sees His children. And I think that’s how He would like our eyes to function as well. Instead of seeing people as labels — rich or poor, black or white, young or old, male or female — He wants us to see God’s children when we look out at the world. That is the first step to living a truly just life.