30. EXPLOITATION AND OPPRESSION. I have seen the oppression of my people

I have seen the oppression of my people

1. In the Bible there are sins that claim to heaven: Abel’s blood (Gn 4, 10), the sodomites´ abuse (19, 13), people’s oppression in Egypt (Ex 3, 7 – 10), the foreigner’s oppression (22, 20), the widower and orphan’s  hazing (22, 21 – 22), the worker’s exploitation (Dt 24, 14; St 5, 4). Which exploitation and oppression do we see?, which judgement keys do we find in the Bible?, what positions are taken in this regard?, are the social and religious systems ruined?, what should we do?.

2. Let us see some situations. The citizens platform Real Democracy denounces: “We are not merchandise in the hands of politicians and bankers”, “we have been complaining and suffering for a long time an unsustainable situation in our country”, “ink streams run about what is happening here and at world level, and also about the possible reactions for the management in favour of the society and not of the so called markets”, “we are every day witnesses or victims of the advance of this situation: people without any job, elder people abandoned, mothers and fathers with no rights, people in the street, progressive extinction of the public health and education, and so on”

3. Telephone company, after obtaining a record benefit of 10.000 million euros, announces that it will do without the 20 % of its workforce, id est, that it will fire 6.000 workers. At the same time, it will distribute 7.300 millions in dividends and that it will reward 1.900 executives during five years with bonuses reaching 450 millions.

4. At least  800 people fleeing Libya have drowned in the Mediterranean sea (ACNUR). Italy accuses Gadafi to turn the shipment of boats loaded with immigrants into a “criminal instrument, used to exert pressure” and she requests the International Penal Tribunal to judge “these crimes”. On the other hand, the French-Italian plan to establish again the borders controls, which Berlin decidedly supports, has followers who do not wait for the decision of the communitarian institutions. Denmark delivers a strike to the Europe without borders with the support of the xenophobic Danish Popular Party.

5. Bin Laden in executed without previous trial: May the 2nd. The news is received with euphoria in the West, but with caution too. Violence spiral is there: the 11th- S, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the 11th- M, the death of Bin Laden and four persons more, what is later on coming? Will the brutal violence continue? To obtain information “coercive interrogation techniques” were used against the Guantanamo prisoners. The Taliban revenge Bin Laden: 14th May: a double attempt against a military centre causes 80 dead and 140 wounded at the north of Pakistan.

6.  The Forum of Priests of Bilbao critics the Youth World Conference celebrated in Madrid “with the economical patronage of some multinational financiers and the support of the central Government”. These “mass spectacles” do not contribute to give glory to the God of Jesus of Nazareth, but to the brief strengthening of the glory of the Church. It is spoken of an overspend between 48 and 54 million euros, half of which will be defrayed by the public budget. The Forum of Priests of Madrid denounces “the scandal originated when comparing the easiness with which public powers finance this event, with so many cuts in the economic budget and in social rights being enacted to the majority of the citizens”

7. Some biblical keys. According to the book of the Genesis, due to the human sin, labour relationship degenerates into exploitation. Fraternal relationship becomes a strength relationship: the dialectics of master and slave. Work is not anymore a creative, satisfactory, stimulating activity, but a hard, prickly, slaving reality. (Gn 3, 17 – 19).

8. When Moses is born, the Israelites are subject to a hard oppression: “So they set task masters over them to oppress them with forced labour. In that way they built the storage towns.” (Ex 1, 11). Besides, the Pharaoh gave a brutal order against the growing number of people: “Every infant boy born to the Hebrews must be thrown into the Nile” (1, 22). The circumstances took Moses to ignore his people oppression, but “by now a grown man, wanted to meet his fellow Hebrews. He noticed how heavily they were burdened” (2, 11). In the Horeb he saw “a bush that was on fire and it did not burn up” (3, 2); it was like an own internal fire, as the word of God who was listening: “I have seen the oppression of my people” (3, 7) The living God opens a liberation path in history. The Jewish paschal ritual proclaims it: “That who is oppressed, come to celebrate the Pasch”. The unleavened bread (like the bitter herbs) is a symbol of the past difficulties.

9. We sing it many times: I shall rise the tent. It is Amos´ message, that announces and denounces. The system is corrupted, “David’s tent is fallen” (Am 9, 11). An unknown prosperity is reached, but the contrast between rich and poor is scandalous. The large sanctuaries are full, but the religion is perverted. Amos is a shepherd and fig’s cultivator. He is neither a professional of religious matter nor a thankful stomach. He is an independent. His mission has God´s temple like a starting point. The denunciation is made from inside. It is made by God himself. Two years before the earthquake that took place at the middle of the century VIII, Amos says: “Yahweh roars from Zion, his voice thunders from Jerusalem.” (1, 2). Before it is listened by the men, nature listens it. The Mount of Olives splits in two (Zec 14, 4). A signal is seen in the earthquake confirming the prophet’s message (See “John Paul I. Open case”, April 2009, 141 – 143). In the photograph, the church of Saint Jacques, Lorca, shaken by the earthquake: Is it a symbol?, a signal?

10. Amos defends the right of the people, he denounces the injustice wherever it takes place, he proclaims the judgement of the nations. Of Damascus, “because she has threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron” (Am 1, 3). Of Gaza and Philistine, “because they carried a whole people into captivity to deliver them over to Edom” (1, 6).Of Tyro and Phoenicia,  for the same cause (1, 9). Of Edom, “because she pursued his brother (Israel) with the sword and cast off all pity” (1, 11). Of Amon, “because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead, so that they might enlarge their border (1, 13). Of Moab, “because he burned to a cinder the bones of the king of Edom” (2, 1). Also account is requested to the believer people. To Judá, “because they despised the law of the Lord and they did not keep his mandates” (2, 4), and to Israel, “because they sell the just for money and the needy for a pair of sandals; they tread on the head of the poor and trample them upon the dust of the earth”; “a man and his father go to the same woman to profane my holy name”; “they stretch out upon garments taken in pledge, beside every altar”. (2, 6 – 8)

11. The prophet claims against the powerful: they store in strongholds what they have taken through violence and extortion (3, 10), they mix luxury and devotion, they like to go on a pilgrimage to the large sanctuaries, but his devotion is not adequate (4, 4). The sanctuaries bless injustice and are fed on it, they soothe and lull to sleep the conscience. God´s commandments are despised (2, 4), the poor are tread (2, 7), justice is thrown away (5, 7), the day of the Lord is expected as a feast day when it will be of judgement (5, 18), the worship is despicable (5, 21); confidence placed in the temple is false (6, 1); luxury is hurtful and without heart (6, 4 – 7)

12. Betel´s priest, a functionary of the real sanctuary, cannot silence the prophet (7, 12 – 13). The priest’s mistake, when trying to do it, is to consider the prophet like a professional, who humbles himself before the established injustice to deserve his bread. The sanctuary is an important pilgrimage place: the royal sanctuary, the country’s temple (7, 13). God is adored in it, but it is confused with the national theology (the bull) and with the god of the prosperity. Worship splendour conceals social injustice. Power and richness corrupt everything. A society like this cannot survive. It is a dented moor threatening ruin (7, 7 – 9), a temple that do not stand the sock of the earthquake (9, 1).

13. Amos not only denounces. Above all, he announces: “On that day I shall restore the fallen hut of David and wall up its breaches and raise its ruined walls” (9, 11). This passage is accomplished in the first Christian community, free of the Jewish legalism (Acts 15, 16). In our times, the Council comes back to the sources, to the experience of the first Christian community, like the key of the ecclesial renovation. But we should not forget. The old Christianity, with its secular ruins, is collapsing. It does not stand the shock of the earthquake, the deep and accelerated changes of the contemporaneous world.

14. We recall the experience of Bartolomé de las Casas. From January 1513 he participates with Pánfilo de Narváez in the conquest of the island of Cube, where European domination of the Christians is imposed “under blood and fire”. Under the system of the share, Bartolomé receives a group of Indians who work for him. Accomplice of the violence he also becomes accomplice of the exploitation. “The minister Bartolomé de las Casas, writes himself, is very busy and very solicitous with his farms, like the others, sending his Indians of the share to the mines, to extract gold and to make sown fields, and taking advantage of them as much as he could”.
15. Conqueror Diego Velázquez arrives and “since there was neither minister nor friar in the whole island”, he asks Bartolomé to celebrate the mass and to predicate the Gospel. It was Pentecost feast, 1514. Bartolomé “began to consider within himself about some authorities of the Sacred Scriptures”. And he found that passage of Sirach that left him astonished: “An offering to God from stolen goods is a stained offering, the sacrifices of the wicked do not please God. The Most High takes no pleasure in the offering of the godless. It is not the number of victims that obtains pardon for sin. Offering to God from what belongs to the poor is like slaughtering a son in the presence of his father. Bread is life to the poor; he who takes it from them is a murderer. He who deprives others of a livelihood kills them, and who ever withdraws the salary of a worker is guilty of blood.” (Sir 34, 18 – 22)

16. Bartolomé could not celebrate his mass. Applying the one (the biblical text) to the other (the misery and servitude of those people), “he determined by himself, convinced of the truth in itself, to be unjust and tyrannical all that about the Indians in this India was committed”. Therefore, he liberated his Indians (“he decided to free them totally”) and he began his prophetic preaching first in Cube, then in Saint Domingo, later on is Spain and afterwards in all the reigns of the India, “being everybody admired and even scared of what he had said them”. That passage of the Sirach had an impressive strength.

17. Diverse positions. For Aristotle (384 – 322 a. C) social inequality is a natural situation, product of the differences between the human beings. Present liberalism has a similar position: it defends the natural development of the market economy, it tries to reduce to a minimum state intervention in economical and social matters. In this conception the just salary is that by which employer and employee freely decide without a third mediation. Capitals´ market liberal globalization stands without any control on the part of a national or international organization. Before the fall of the Berlin’s wall, the States had intervention capacity.

18. For Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) the relationship capital-work is unfavourable for the worker who suffers several degrees of exploitation according to a series of factors. In a society divided between two antagonic classes, a dominant minority builds up permanent exploitation mechanisms to ensure capital reproduction. Salary is unjust in the measure in which the worker only receives a part of the product of his work. The added value is the difference between what the worker produces and what he receives like salary, it is the exact expression of his degree of exploitation

19. In general, Church’s social doctrine is a reaction of a theoretical type, more than a return to the Gospel. Little by little the criticism of the capitalist system is intensified, the private property value is played down, the workers rights priority is emphasized, the closure before the socialism is (with difficulties and resistances) attenuated. Nevertheless, the Church’s social doctrine, even in his most advanced expressions, is unreal before the capitalist world. Gospel’s social message takes position in favour of the poor, but the large Christian Churches are unable to assume it vitally. For this reason: “they are structurally rich and powerful and they are committed with the interests of the rich” (J. Mª Díez Alegría)

20. What should we do? John the Baptist answers the question: do not make extortion to anybody, to share (Lk 3, 10 -     14). The Gospel is neither abstract nor neutral. It is good news for the poor: “Happy the poor because the kingdom of God is yours” (Lk 6, 20; see Mt 5, 3). It is bad news for the rich: “woe you, the rich!” (Lk 6, 24). Jesus places himself in the line of the prophets. Where there is oppression, there is a word of liberation: “Lord’s spirit is upon me, because he has anointed me to announce the good news to the poor, he has sent me to proclaim the liberation to the captives and the sight to the blind, to free the oppressed” (Lk 4, 18 – 19)

21. The Gospel denounces the social abysm that separates rich and poor (Lk 16, 19 – 31). Jesus does not place himself on the side of the money and the power. Between the crowd and the powerful, he opts for the crowd, harassed and taken down (Mt 6, 36), “You cannot serve both God and money”, says Jesus (Mt 6, 24). And also: “How difficult is that those possessing wealth come into the Kingdom of God!”. The disciples ask: Then, who can be saved? Jesus answers: “For men it is impossible, but not for God, because everything is possible for God” (Mk 10, 23 - 27)

22. You not only shall not steal (Dt 5, 19), but you shall share your wealth (Lk 19, 8 – 10). The first Christians share. Human relationship, falsified and reduced to relationship of master and slave, is transformed in fraternity relationship through the sharing. Money losses his oppressive meaning and becomes measure, instrument and signal of communion. Heart’s communion manifests itself like an effective communication of goods (Acts 2, 42 – 44; 4, 32; 2 Co 8 and 9).

23. It is necessary to defend man’s dignity and rights (GS 26 and 27), to overcome the large social difficulties (GS 63 and 66), to create living communities, to raise the fallen hut. Being community, the Church is “light of the people” (LG 1), “a sign raised among nations” (SC2). It is not the individual, but the community the one who can accomplish a replay of the society, such as it is configured. It is not the individual, but the community the one who can live today the signals of the Gospel.

* For group or personal reflection:
- Some present situation
- Work relationship degenerates into exploitation
- The living God opens a liberation way in history
- The system is in ruins, the temple does not stand the shock of the earthquake
- Massive pilgrimage, Pharaonic travels
- The bread is the life of the poor
- Social inequality is a natural situation
- A dominant minority builds up permanent exploitation mechanisms
- The large Churches are rich and powerful
- What should we do?

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