I still remember my first time going inside a prison (it was in a professional capacity I hasten to add). There are a lot of rules that visitors have to follow but the prison officer accompanying me gave me verbal instructions consisting of the most important ones first so I was at least aware of those at a minimum. It’s the same with us, if we have to give instructions, we give the most important ones first. Our “To Do” lists usually place the highest priority task first because that’s what has to be done first, over and above all other things
Jesus is giving instructions to His new disciples in our reading today. As we know, there were a lot of rules for Jews to follow. However, Jesus is making a new Israel around Himself and wants to instruct His followers what life is meant to be like. So He condenses the rules down to the most essential ones so, whatever else they understand, they understand this. He knows they won’t be able to remember long lists of rules so by giving them the core values they can be assured of knowing what Jesus wants. And the first instructions that Jesus gives them tell the disciples that God loves the poor, the hungry, those who cry and those who are persecuted, excluded and on the margins of society.
In this we see what is closest to God’s heart. We may think it odd that God who loves everyone would place special emphasis on this section of society. But God gives them this attention because the world ignores them. By highlighting them first, Jesus forces us to consider how we treat the poor, the hungry, those who cry and the outcast. As the church, we also must reflect this priority. We must take care of the poor, feed the hungry, comfort the upset and welcome the stranger, otherwise we are not reflecting God’s concerns. It stands in contrast to the world that values riches and status above everything else. It flies in the face of the prosperity gospel that would have us believe God wants us to be rich. It stands alone as God’s truth, that the poor, the hungry, the sad and the outcast matter to God; so they must matter to us.