During the 20th century, the option for the poor or the preferential option for the poor was articulated as one of the basic principles of Catholic social teaching. For example, in Octogesima Adveniens (1971), Pope Paul VI writes:
In teaching us charity, the Gospel instructs us in the preferential respect due to the poor and the special situation they have in society: the most fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods generously at the service of others.
Yet while all Christians — not just Catholics — should express a kinship for the less fortunate, Nathan Duffy reminds us that Jesus also expressed a “special, unique concern for wealthy tax collectors.”
Of course, this still falls under the category of concern for those on the margins of society. Only in this case it’s a person who is despised and marginalized, not for his poverty or weakness, but for his position of relative power and wealth, with its attendant potential for abuse.
When Christ is seen eating with “sinners and tax collectors”, to the disapproval of the Pharisees (Matt. 9:10-13; Luke 5:29-32) — the modern analog of which would be befriending IRS agents and Wall Street bankers, while the ‘social justice’ crusaders look on with rueful scorn — this caused some scandal. Of the various sorts of sinners he’s eating with, only tax collectors are singled out by name, signaling that their profession was seen as especially odious and sinful by many. In much the same way, the IRS and Wall Street bankers are widely despised today, given their intimate dealings with the money of others and possible, or actual, corruption associated with it. And why does Jesus choose such dubious company? “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. . . for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”