They were nobodies. They were the poor, living on the margins of society. He lived an ascetic life somewhere in the
desert of Palestine. He may have been one of the Essenes, a countercultural Jewish sect devoted to the Torah and to life
lived in community. When he wandered onto the public stage, he captured the imagination of the people who heard his
call to conversion of life. The people of Israel had not heard a prophet’s voice in 400 years.
This prophet – John the
Baptizer – called the people to repentance and preached God’s forgiveness. He announced that the justice of God was at
hand – revealed fully in the One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
Likewise, she lived on the margins of society.
Her community was the anawim, the Lord’s poor, the socially insignificant
who lived in the grip of poverty and violent political unrest. Yet, the Lord’s poor never stopped trusting that Yahweh would
bring them justice and liberation. From the Lord’s poor, God chose Mary – a young peasant woman – to be a partner in
Mary and John the Baptist. In becoming one of us, God chose people who were socially invisible – the poor, the
marginalized, the oppressed – to be partners in the event of the Incarnation. Among society’s invisible, God revealed
God’s self most intimately in the person of Jesus Christ.
Mary and John the Baptist were heirs to the deep convictions held by the people of Israel. Israel saw itself as a unique
people who inherited the promises Yahweh made to Abraham – that Israel would be a nation among nations. Israel
expected that justice would be done to them if the people were faithful to the one true God. They anticipated a Messiah,
who would free Israel from the oppression suffered at the hands of other powerful forces of the day.
Jesus knew this reality for Israel; it was his inheritance also. And we see in the New Testament – Luke’s Gospel in
particular – that Jesus grew to understand his mission as bringing about the justice Israel anticipated – bringing about
freedom from the various forms of oppression. In the familiar passage from Luke (4:16-21), Jesus reads from Isaiah 61:
“’The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to
proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the
Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue
were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’” As Jesus’
ministry and teachings demonstrate, the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed – those who were likely the socially
invisible and marginalized – were visible to him. He saw and knew them; he did not hesitate in reaching out to them and
empowering them. He invited his followers to do the same. He invites us to do the same now.
During the season of Advent, we will meet the powerful figures of John the Baptist and Mary. Isaiah 61 will be pro-
claimed. We will be reminded throughout the season of God’s promises, as our hearts are prepared to live more deeply
our life in Christ. Given this backdrop, it seems a fitting time to attend to the struggles of society’s invisible – like the poor,
the marginalized and oppressed.
For instance, do we see the poor – our brothers and sisters who live in poverty and struggle to have even life’s most basic
needs met? Who are they? Do we know them? How might we get to know them and be present to them?
we empower the poor to help them realize their ideas and hopes and dreams for life?
Advent beckons us to follow in the footsteps of Christ by not allowing the poor to disappear into society’s margins.
“Blessed are the poor…” (Luke 6:20-21)
By Anne Y. Koester, Associate Director, Georgetown Center for Liturgy