Friday, March 29, 2013

Holy Week and the poor

by Gustavo Gutiérrez (English translation by Rebel Girl)
PUCP Punto.Edu
March 25, 2013

"Are you a king?," Pilate asks Jesus in a text from the Gospel of John that we will read again this Holy Week. Jesus doesn't deny it, but he specifies, "My Kingdom is not of this world." Pilate, an astute man, isn't fooled and he says, "Then you are a king?." A question that is, rather, an assertion. Jesus agrees, "I am a king." That statement will cost him his life. His accusers will use it to shout that he's going against the authority of the Roman emperor -- for that reason, but not without mocking intent, they will put the inscription "INRI" on the cross.

But what did Jesus mean when he argued that his kingdom "isn't of this world"? Would it be an ahistoric kingdom, dwelling exclusively somewhere beyond our time? According to the testimony of the gospels, the kingdom is present right now among us, on the way to its fulfillment, even as we are taught to pray "your kingdom come." Jesus tells Pilate he is king, but of a very different kingdom than the one the ruler represents. It isn't worldly; it doesn't use power to dominate others and defend privileges, but to serve. To serve, first of all, the last and the least of society, the neglected ones. Undoubtedly, effective means are required to change situations in which the human dignity and human rights of the weakest are not respected; that is power, but, according to the teachings of the gospel, it should always be a generous and humble power of service. Not like the "great ones of this world" who "treat others despotically" and "abuse their power." "Let it not be so among you," Jesus tells his disciples (Mark 10:42). A warning today for all, including the Church itself.

Commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus should be a time to breathe deeply and experience the gift of life that we are celebrating these days. Let us not be beaten by skepticism in the face of the need for personal change and the possibility of building a fair and humane society, where everyone has a worthy and just place. Learning to be alert to all types of abuse and discrimination, and being aware of how our carelessness and complicit self-absorption are partly responsible for these facts, are prerequisites for change. As we renew our hope in the paschal mystery that we will soon celebrate, let us also renew our ability to be attentive to everything that harms human beings -- the image of God, for believers -- for whom Jesus gave his life.

Pope Francis has just told us that he dreams of a "poor Church for the poor." For that we need, as he has also said, to recognize that the authentic power of the Church is service to the poor. Are we, as Christians and as Church, ready to die to our own advantages and certain social privileges to be in solidarity with the poorest, in whom we find Jesus, who died and rose for all? If not, even though we've gone through Holy Week, it will not have happened to us.

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