In John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath, there is a scene where Ma Joad has no money and is helped by a man who is almost as poor as she is. Responding to his kindness, she says, “If you’re in trouble or hurt or need—go to poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help—the only ones.”
Her words seem counterintuitive. Shouldn’t you go to the rich, who have the money to help? But having the means to help is not necessarily the same as having the inclination to do so. When you have firsthand experience with poverty, you have a natural empathy for the poor that the wealthy may not.
There’s an obvious connection to the Gospel, when Jesus points out that it’s hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. His words subvert our expectations. We live in a world where wealth is seen as the entry ticket to all desirable things: power, status, comfort. But Jesus challenges this belief. He makes us realize that other things—like genuine sacrifice for others—get us farther than a healthy stock portfolio ever could.
It’s fitting that this subversive message shows up on the day where we celebrate the Queenship of Mary. Mary herself is the poster child for how God reverses our expectations. In the Gospel according to Saint Luke, she speaks about how God casts down the arrogant and lifts up the lowly. And her own life is a perfect example of this. She was neither powerful nor wealthy; when she presented her infant son at the temple, she brought doves as an offering, evidence of her household’s lack of money. And yet today, this humble girl from Galilee is queen of Heaven and Earth. How’s that for a surprising reversal?
And even in her queenship, our expectations are subverted. Most of us think of queens as remote, privileged beings, waving stiffly at the crowds. The Blessed Virgin Mary is a queen who knows what it means to struggle. She identifies with every grieving parent and every hungry refugee family. Through her own suffering, that heart has been cracked open, making it wide enough to hold all those who need her.
This makes her a precious intercessor for our own times of trouble or hurt or need. With her loving empathy, she has the inclination to help us; through her unique closeness to Christ, she has the means to do so. And she is only a prayer away.