A CHOICE FOR THE POOR

Created: Wednesday, 30 June 2010 Last Updated: Friday, 07 June 2013

1. Faith experience, if it is authentic, implies also an option for the poor. We can question what this means: an option of social class? More than this option of social class? to give alms?, to give something extra?, to share?, to chose a life of poverty?, to stand by the humble and the one who suffers?

2. Poverty is a constant fact of human experience .A poor man is oppressed by the weight of a current or permanent misery: hunger, disease, ignorance, injustice, tyranny. The poor, often forgotten everywhere, raise questions that are vivid and universal, such as food, health, jobs, housing, education, justice, freedom. In our world, with a population of around 5.700 million people, there are 500 million hungry people, 1.700 million with a life expectancy of less than 60 years; 1.500 million jobless; 1.000 million illiterate; 2.000 million with no drinkable water; 500 million handicapped, 100 million homeless; 28 million refugees.

3. In the Bible, poverty is an evil that has to be combated amidst a fraternal land: "The needy will never be lacking in the land, that is why I command you to open your hand to your poor and needy in your country"(Dt 15,11). Poverty is bad in itself; it is a living sign of man’s sin. The poor shout out that the world does not respond to God’s project. It is true that misery can be fruit of laziness (Prv 6, 6-11), or disorder (13,18), but it is also true that many poor people are victims of the injustice of powerful men who take advantage of their power to exploit them. These poor people find in the prophets their very true defenders.

4. Prophets denounce the oppression suffered by the weak and scandalous differences between rich and poor: Hear this, you who trample upon the needy ... Never will I forget a thing they have done! (Am 8,4-7). And also: Woe to you join house to house, who connect field with field, till no room remains, and you are left to dwell alone in the midst of the land! (Is 5,8). Messiah awaited will defend the rights of the  poor: He shall judge the weak with justice and decide aright for the land’s afflicted (Is 11,4; Ps 72,2ss).

5. John the Baptist does not demand special ascetic practices. He calls to conversion.  The question he provokes is this one: What then shall we do? (Lk 3,10). He replays to them that it is necessary to share: Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise (3,11). And to the publicans, tax collectors, John does not tell them to change their occupation but to avoid abuses: Stop collecting more than what is fixed (3,13). To soldiers, mercenaries and foreigners, John neither tells them to change their occupation, but not to take advantage of their power: Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages (3,14).

6. Jesus does something similar to Zacchaeus, chief tax collector and also a wealthy man. Jesus is above their falsehoods: He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner (19,7). Zacchaeus wants to share his goods and give back four times more if he has defrauded others. Jesus said to him: Today salvation has come to this house (19,9).

7. Mary is among the poor, those to whom the prophets and psalms announce salvation. God intervenes in favor of the humble, the weak and the poor: He has thrown down the rulers form their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty (1,52-53).

8. The Gospel announced by Jesus erupts amidst an enslaved land, in darkness, in need of redemption. It is good news for the poor, the multitude subdued by the powerful. Jesus teaching is not something abstract and not doubt that where there is oppression there will be a Word of liberation. Like once upon a time in the synagogue of Nazareth: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord (Lk 4,18-19). The mission of Jesus presents, as a warranty of authenticity, this awaited sign: The poor are evangelized (Mt 11,5). They are them who embrace as good news the Kingdom of God, whose listen the Word, whose become community.

9. Certainly, the Gospel announced to the poor supposes an overwhelming challenge that questions the disciples and leads them to ask themselves: Then, who can be saved? a challenge that at the same time leads us to understand the free gift of salvation, "For human beings it is impossible, but not for God, all things are possible for God" (Mk 10, 23-27).

10. If the Gospel is good news to the poor, it is, understandably, bad news to the rich. "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God! (Lk 18,24). And also,” But woe to you who are rich! for you have received your consolation" (Lk 6,24). There must be a choice between God and money (Mt 6,24).

11. Raising his eyes toward his disciples Jesus said: Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours (Lk 6,20). The poverty that Jesus talks about is not reduced only to an economic and social condition, but implies also an interior disposition, an attitude of the soul: Blessed are the poor in spirit, the Gospel of Mathew says (5,3). That is to say, it is not enough to be poor; it is necessary to have spirit as well.

12. The Gospel declared to the poor translates to an effective communication of possessions, following the model of Jesus. So, Jesus does not impose to all the renunciation of their possessions. There were people who give to the poor all they have (Mk 10,21), others who give half (Lk 19,8), a third that helps with loans (Lk 9,34ss). A woman gives for God’s sake the last possession she has (Mk 12,41-44), others follow Jesus serving him and taking care of him (Mk 15,41), another wastes money on him with an extravagance (Mk 14,3-9). Nothing is here regulated; that is why there is no need for exceptions, justifications, privileges or excuses of the law. Everything needs to be done with discretion (Mt 6,3).

13. With experience of faith, first Christians become "crazies": they have all things in common (Acts 2,42-44). Relationships, made false because one wanted to have possessions, are transformed into fraternal relationships through sharing. Money, reason of separation among men, is converted into a sign of communion. The core of communion is shown in communication of goods, that reaches to everyone according each one’s need (Acts 2,44 y 4,32). In St. Paul’ communities the same spirit is present: there is no needy person among them (2 Co 8,14: Acts 4,34: 1 Jn 3,17). For that, St. Paul organizes in Corinth a collection for the poor of Jerusalem according to this criteria: each must give in agreement to his conscience and cheerfully (2 Cor 9,7).

14. Vatican Council II says: While enormous crowds do not have what is strictly needed, some...live in opulence or waste without consideration (GS 63). It also says that to satisfy the demands of justice the enormous social differences must to be deleted (GS 66).

15. Within the poor we find Christ. He wants to be served though them. The service done to the poorest brothers is service done to Jesus himself and we will be judged for that: For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me...Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me (Mt 25,35-40).

Dialogue: What is the meaning of a choice for the poor?