Religión Digital. English translation by Rebel Girl.
Through a reading of Chapters 11 and 12 of the Gospel of Luke, I want to express some of the features of the Church of the Poor as it exists at this time in Latin America, according to my personal experience as a pastor in that region of the world. In Latin American theology, the Church of the Poor is the one that has incorporated the poor into its organizational structures as persons involved in proposals, decision-making and pastoral action. They help the Church read and apply the Gospel clearly, without duplicity, free from any interest apart from the true meaning of life according to God's plan.
John Paul II used to say that the Church should act in such a way that "in every Christian community the poor feel 'at home'." And he wondered, "Would not this approach be the greatest and most effective presentation of the good news of the Kingdom?".
Since its decision to implement the Second Vatican Council in Latin America, made during the General Assembly of Latin American Bishops held in Medellín, Colombia, the Church in Latin America began to read in the signs of the times the passage of God through the history of our peoples, mostly made up of poor people. Thus they began to be integrated into our diocesan communities. This path has led us to understand that the Church has to change its face, leaving behind the signs of power and acquiring a face of service and generous self-giving to the world. In one word, taking the poor into our structures has led all of us Christians who form the diocesan communities -- laypeople, members of the consecrated life, deacons, priests, and bishops -- to transform our minds and hearts and understand that the Kingdom of God is built not only within the church structure, which, on the one hand, is something required for the community to fulfill its mission with consistency in the world, but to understand that the Kingdom of God comes into the history of our people through our pastoral activity, from our evangelizing work, else we would be failing in the mission that Christ entrusted to his disciples and followers.
This dimension of building the social structures such that in them and through them the conditions for the Kingdom of God to be present among us are created, is an essential part of understanding the evangelizing actions of the Church, which made us understand the leaders of Latin American theology who focused their reflection on identifying the passage of God in the midst of our peoples to free them from the inhuman conditions of marginalization and destitution in which they had lived for centuries. From this comes the title "Liberation Theology" through which said theological reflection was offered to the Church not just of our continent but of the whole world.
The historical conditions that make the Kingdom of God flourish in the midst of the cultures and peoples -- to name a few as an example -- are: justice and peace, love and respect for the human person, equitable participation of all in the goods of the Earth through a just administration of them which allows access to a decent life for every human being and for all the peoples of the Earth, and care for nature and all life on the planet. Surely the Kingdom of God, by being present in history, enhances all these characteristics in human society, but such conditions also arise from ethical responsibility in the behavior of individuals, human groups, peoples and nations.
Human intelligence and freedom are not annulled by divine providence, but the ability to decide and clarity of discernment that knowledge of the truth grants lead to the free and conscious participation of the individual in the building of society and its historical evolution. The Church's pastoral action makes present the gift of redemption realized by the paschal mystery of Christ which has as a result that the world would be built by man and woman, in a correct sense, such that the doors to life would be open to them and the signs of death, which are rooted in sin that drives us to selfishness, indifference to the suffering of others, and lack of love, would disappear from among us.
This vision of the construction of history to which God is calling us through His Son Jesus Christ, leads us to understand the Gospel from a different perspective since it is no longer the purely individual one, nor that of a self-centered Church, locked in a sort of religious system in which, through the fulfillment of a set of moral rules and ritual requisites, we live convinced in our own eyes that we're going in the right direction.
In order to find clues in the Gospel for building a church that would be of the poor, where the decisive option for them impels us to know the Church that Jesus wants at this time in world history, so full of contradictions with God's plan.
LUKE 11: The Sign of Jonah (Lk 11:29-32)
The people having gathered, he began to speak: "This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. At the judgment the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation and she will condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and there is something greater than Solomon here. At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here."
Starting with Jonah, Jesus, in his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, puts himself openly in the prophetic line of Israel that confronted the economic and political powers of its time instead of allying itself with those powers. This leads us to understand that the Church must be free before the powers of the world if it doesn't want to lose its prophetic tradition that enables it to clearly announce the distinct difference between good and evil, what is just and unjust, what is ethically acceptable and what isn't.
Light and Darkness (Lk 11:33-36)
"No one who lights a lamp hides it away or places it under a bushel basket, but on a lampstand so that those who enter might see the radiance."
These words point out the importance of the disciples of the Kingdom putting themselves in a place that is critical and independent of the powers of the world, above its interests which are not those of the Kingdom of justice and peace. Only from that position -- set on a lampstand -- will they be light for the world and have the gospel freedom to participate actively in the organization of all aspects that make human society a place of love, mutual respect, and harmony, and thus, in all its institutions, the spirit of service and deep respect for the basic rights inherent in the dignity of the human person will shine forth.
The criteria of the mind either illuminate all of life or fill it with darkness. "The lamp of the body is your eye. When your eye is sound, then your whole body is filled with light, but when it is bad, then your body is in darkness. Take care, then, that the light in you not become darkness.If your whole body is full of light, and no part of it is in darkness, then it will be as full of light as a lamp illuminating you with its brightness."
Let's read these same words of Jesus in the context in which he puts them in the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 6:19-24): "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be. No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [money]."
Greed for money generates inequalities that foster domination over others, using people, and the spiraling growth of social models that systematically exploit entire populations and serve to protect the minorities that control and subject them. These systems can be political, economic or religious and, according to the historical experience of the dynamics of totalitarian regimes, they are systems that often go hand in hand. This happened in Palestine in Jesus' time, where the religious system was allied with worldly powers, as Jesus puts it below in his dialogue with the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.
Jesus is invited to eat at the home of a Pharisee (Lk 11:37-54)
After he had spoken, a Pharisee invited him to dine at his home. He entered and reclined at table to eat. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal. The Lord said to him, "Oh you Pharisees! Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil.
"You fools! Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside? But as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.
"Woe to you Pharisees! You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb, but you pay no attention to justice and to love for God. These you should have done, without overlooking the others."
In these words, Jesus unmasks the true motives and interests that drove the Jewish religious system, controlled from the Temple by members of lofty priestly castes, assisted very effectively by the Pharisees and the doctors of the Law, to fulfill its purpose to serve the Roman Empire. Through that control, they were able to get the people to ask for Jesus' death and not that of the murderer Barrabas. The Jewish authorities who identified with the power establishment, began to treat the people with the same spirit as the powerful. (If you lie down with dogs...)
"Woe to you Pharisees! You love the seat of honor in synagogues and greetings in marketplaces. Woe to you! You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk."
Then one of the scholars of the law said to him in reply, "Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too." And he said, "Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them."
The Jewish religious authorities' alliance with the power establishment and their symbiosis with it led them to act towards the people the same way as the powerful of their time, in the service that they should have been giving the people so that they would know the Law of Moses. If we, who are part of the church hierarchy, align ourselves with the powerful of today, we will end up treating the people the same way those who consider them inferior treat them, and with that excuse, they abuse them and subject them to their interests without any mercy at all. Deep down in their hearts, the Pharisees and doctors of the Law rejected the Law.
"Woe to you! You build the memorials of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. Consequently, you bear witness and give consent to the deeds of your ancestors, for they killed them and you do the building. Therefore, the wisdom of God said, 'I will send to them prophets and apostles; some of them they will kill and persecute in order that this generation might be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who died between the altar and the temple building. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be charged with their blood!"
These statements by Jesus lead us to remember what he said when he was talking about being the Good Shepherd who gave his life for his sheep: "No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down on my own" (Jn 10:18), because he knew very well what turf he had gotten onto and that they were going to kill him. He voluntarily kept his witness to the Truth until the end, before Pilate, the one who authorized the execution of the death sentence imposed on him by the Sanhedrin.
"Woe to you, scholars of the law! You have taken away the key of knowledge. You yourselves did not enter and you stopped those trying to enter." When he left, the scribes and Pharisees began to act with hostility toward him and to interrogate him about many things, for they were plotting to catch him at something he might say.
From a position of power, the Word of God ceases to be food for one's own life and the life of the people, to become purely an instrument of control over others.
LUKE 12: The leaven of the Pharisees, hypocrisy (Lk 12:1)
Meanwhile, so many people were crowding together that they were trampling one another underfoot. He began to speak, first to his disciples, "Beware of the leaven -- that is, the hypocrisy -- of the Pharisees."
Undoubtedly, Jesus is referring to what he has just said about the Pharisees and the doctors of the Law. That they hide petty interests under religious appearances. That they act duplicitously, concealing the truth.
The proclamation of the Gospel must be honest, without pretense (Lk 12:2-3)
“There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops."
Paul's words shed a light to help us understand these words of Jesus: "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit." (2 Cor 3:17-18) "Therefore, having receives this ministry through His mercy, we don't flinch. Rather, we renounce being silent out of shame. We will not proceed with cunning, falsifying God's word, but, declaring the truth, we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God." (2 Cor 4:1-2)
To proclaim the Gospel honestly and bluntly, prophetic freedom is necessary. This has been a characteristic of the Latin American martyrs who have given their lives for the truth of the Gospel. Within this galaxy of martyrs are catechists, women and men, as well as social activists who emerged from grassroots communities, men and women religious, priests and bishops. This is why Jesus then talks about how we will be held accountable by God for our cowardly silence since, because of it, many thousands of human beings in the world continue to suffer.
Because of our cowardliness in denouncing the injustices committed in the world, we will be held accountable by God (Lk 12:4-9)
"I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more. I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one. Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows. I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God."
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Lk 12:10-12)
“Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven."
Before God, the testimony we have given to the truth contained in the Gospel is definitive. Only thus will we be bearers of the fullness of life contained in the message of Jesus. Someone might be confused by the identity of Jesus as the Son of God who came to earth to save us. But the truth of his word which comes from God Himself, which He proclaimed to the world through the power of the Spirit, and which those whom He has sent now proclaim with the same strength, is an indisputable benchmark for the conduct of each person living in the world. No matter what your religion is or if you're someone who has no creed at all, even if you're a self-confessed atheist, because we will all give account to God for our right judgment and our resulting ethical behavior.
Anyone who proclaims the truth has the ongoing assistance of the Holy Spirit, whether Christian or not. When they suffer or are judged by the world because of their adherence to truth, God is with them and in them.
"When they take you before synagogues and before rulers and authorities, do not worry about how or what your defense will be or about what you are to say. For the holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say."
Greed -- the source of many evils in the world yesterday, today, and forever (Lk 12:13-15)
Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me." He replied to him, "Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?" Then he said to the crowd, "Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life is not guaranteed by possessions."
Jesus' response to the first temptation to which he was sujected -- when he began to suffer hunger in the Jericho desert where he had retreated to prepare for the begining of his public life through forty days of fasting and prayer (see Mt 4:1-4) -- sheds some light to help us understand Jesus' statement. Satan invited him, if he was the Son of God, to satisfy his hunger not just at that moment but every day of his life on this earth, to change into bread those tons of stones that there were in the cliffs around the desert of Jericho. Jesus answered, "Man does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God." (Mt 4:4). That is, that human life is fully explained not just by the goods each one accumulates individually but by the construction of a project in which the goods used to preserve human life are distributed equitably to everyone.
The goods that God put in the world so that bread is within everyone's reach, should be managed through the ethical plan contained in the Kingdom which destines them for all and not for the satisfaction of one individual alone who accumulates them for himself. Jesus explained this with a parable addressed to the person who asked him to intervene so that his brother would share the inheritance with him and to all the people who were around him at that time.
The rich man who had an abundant harvest (Lk 12:16-21)
Then he told them a parable. "There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.”
In the final words of the parable, Jesus clearly warns of the meaninglessness of the lives of those who don't understand that the goods of the earth have to be administered thinking about the good of the whole human family. Working for oneself, as did this landowner, accumulating his harvest into barns to give himself a good life of luxuries and excess, had consequences. It meant proliferation of the social inequality, hunger and poverty of others.
On the other hand, working for God -- something the landowner didn't do -- would have led him to share his profits with the workers on his estate and with those who lived in the vicinity who needed food, clothing, housing and health care, so that all would have the full life that God wants all of his sons and daughters in this world to enjoy.
The selfish care for one's own individual life and one's own individual body is the active root of structural injustice (Lk 12:22-34)
He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life and what you will eat, or about your body and what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing. Notice the ravens: they do not sow or reap; they have neither storehouse nor barn, yet God feeds them. How much more important are you than birds! Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your lifespan?
If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies. They do not toil or spin. But I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass in the field that grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
As for you, do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not worry anymore. All the nations of the world seek for these things, and your Father knows that you need them.
When we seek individually to satisfy our needs for our own lives such as food, drink, clothing, we forget the rest of the human family and create systems that encourage individual selfishness and the dominance of a few human groups over the rest of the people.
The economic policies of the world that use the goods of the earth to provide a luxurious life to a few at the expense of the destruction of the life of other beings on the planet, make no sense. They're an absurdity.
Thinking selfishly of one's own life and one's own body and not of the lives and bodies of everyone, is the mentality that justifies exquisite food and luxurious clothing for a few at the expense of the hunger and nakedness of the multitudes of poor people living in the world today. Businessmen who strip their employees of a fair wage and skimp on their labor rights to maintain their lives of luxury and opulence, forget the right their workers have to a decent life. If they would decrease their luxury and live more modestly, their colleagues in their businesses would receive much better benefits and wages. Thus, everyone whose lives depend on these businesses, living austerely but decently, would have access to the well-being that every human being should have.
The same must be said of those who have responsibility in the nations' governments. If they had the mentality that comes from these words of Jesus, they would ensure access to a decent life for all citizens of their respective countries, they wouldn't allow inequality in the living standards of people, they would tend to the levels of corruption within public administration, and they would ensure the fair distribution of income. The rulers would significantly reduce their offensive high living standards through the inflated salaries and exaggerated benefits they have allocated themselves, in contrast to the miserable wages they allow to be allocated to the workers in businesses and mid- and low-level bureaucrats.
This kind of life which people who are in business and finance and in public and political positions shamelessly allow themselves, is justified because in their minds, there must be differences between them and the simple people of the village, because the latter don't deserve the luxury and ostentation that they ought to show at the power levels in which they move.
Unfortunately, these differences are also created by those of us within the church hierarchy who think that we have achieved a level of power that gives us the right to luxury and ostentation.
What is most offensive to God about all these behaviors comes from the fact that the luxury and ostentation in which a few people live in world society comes at the cost of the poor with their lousy salaries, whose clothing is extremely poor, whose food is insufficient, whose houses are poor and unhealthy, and who receive meager services.
Instead, seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides. The Kingdom of God is the restorative plan of human history, according to what God decided at the beginning of the creation of the world. They are the designs that live in His mind and His heart. No one has ever seen God, the Gospel of John tells us. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him. (Jn 1:18). Those designs are peace, love and justice.
"Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests." (Lk 2:14) With these words the angels proclaimed to the shepherds of Bethlehem the plan for the world that the newborn Messiah was bringing. "The glory of God is man fully alive," St. Irenaeus said, and "the fruit of justice will be peace," said Isaiah (Is 32:17). Later, Jesus would proclaim, "I came so that they might have life and have it abundantly." (Jn 10:10)
God has made the poor the privileged recipients of His Kingdom (Lk 12:32-34)
"Fear not, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom." (Lk 12:32)
This phrase of Jesus' helps us understand his words that we read in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke: "I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, and you have revealed them to the little ones. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him." (Mt 11:25-27)
Matthew puts Jesus' praise to the Father in the context of the hardness of heart with which the inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum -- cities in Galilee - have rejected his message. He compares the first two cities to Tyre and Sidon, pagan cities that would have been more docile than them before the message of the Kingdom. On the other hand, he compares Capernaum to Sodom and Gomorrha, whose inhabitants will be judged less harshly than Capernaum at the end of time.
The poor are those who best understand the message of the Kingdom because they have not contributed to building the social structures that produce and justify the proliferation of social inequality. They, the poor, who are the victims of the infamous fruit of those structures, are the ones who experience the bitter results of the hunger they cause in the world.
The poor are the ones who suffer in body and spirit the consequences of the destitution in which they are made to live by the ruses full of hypocrisy with which the world's powerful justify political and economic decisions, with which they exclude millions of the impoverished of the earth from a decent life. Thus they convert the impoverished millions into their slaves, they snatch the natural resources from their lands, along with everything that should be providing them the necessary comfort in food, housing, water, a healthy environment, and energy resources.
Therefore, a feature of the Church of the poor in Latin America has been incorporating the last and least of society who are the poor into the pastoral structures for consultation, making and executing decisions, because that is how the Church has proposed to make the Kingdom of God happen in the world, the way Christ decided. This means that the Kingdom is inserted into the historic structures through which the lives of men and women who inhabit the planet are built.
Christ knows that it's the Father's choice that the Kingdom of God, which is a Kingdom of love, justice, peace, freedom, and grace, would happen in human history to transform it from a history full of injustice and offenses to human dignity to a true history of equality and love, of respect for human dignity and rights, where a distinction is truly made between what is ethically right and what is unacceptable, both in political leadership and in the decisions that promote access to justice and a decent life for all humankind.
That is what Don Samuel did in Chiapas, where the indigenous people who had been enslaved for years on the estates, confined to hunger, poverty, and premature death, became active builders of their church communities and just social structures.
It's also what Don Leónidas Proaño did with the indigenous people in Ecuador to whom he gave the lands that the Church, for years, had put in the hands of mestizo landowners who exploited the indigenous people to their advantage, through the unjust use of their labor force.
Monseñor Proaño gathered up these lands from those to whom the Church had rented them for years and he organized the indigenous communities who began to use them within their millenial communal culture such that they made them produce for the benefit of all, generating so much progress that it prompted Ecuador to reproduce that model in agrarian reform at the national level.
And Monseñor Proaño was persecuted all his life by those landowners who had taken advantage not only of the lands through which the Church had once made them powerful, but exploited the poor to make those lands productive.
Monseñor Proaño also, as did Don Samuel Ruiz in Chiapas, incorporated the poor into the church structures to carry out evangelization with the aim of causing the coming of the Kingdom of God into history.
That is how blessed Monseñor Casaldáliga and many pastors in Latin America, men and women catechists, permanent deacons, men and women religious, priests and bishops have worked. Their work of organizing the poor has unsettled the powerful who, in league with those who have polluted the Church of Jesus from within with worldly power, have organized a persecution against these pastors. These same people, discomfited because their interests were affected, by using their influence in the decision-making structures of the Church, have managed to dismantle many pastoral processes in Latin America -- those on which it was working in line with the decisions of the Second Vatican Council, which called for the Church to be poor and concerned in particular about the world's poor and about social justice. The post-conciliar Papal Magisterium shows the same concern in its documents.
Working for God and not for oneself
"Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be." (Lk 12:33-34)
Here Jesus is inviting us to get rid of greed, which leads us to build the world so that its structures allow us to build up personal or family wealth or that of closed-in groups. This position of accumulating for ourselves and our loved ones, puts us outside of the Kingdom perspective.
On the other hand, building a world for God means working for structures where the earth's resources are placed at everyone's disposal. It's about a world built as God wishes. A world where no one is in need, as Luke explains in the book of Acts when he is describing the life of the first Christian community in Jerusalem.
It's very interesting how Jesus compares our basic choices in life with our "treasure". If what you're interested in is accumulating wealth, you put yourself in the dynamic of the systematic production of injustice, hunger, and destitution for others. If your life choice is Kingdom justice, your heart is very close to God's heart and you get to work on the way to which Jesus invited the rich young man when he said to him, "Go, sell everything you have, and give the proceeds of the sale to the poor. Then come and follow me to proclaim and promote the coming of the Kingdom of God in the world."
The prospect of the establishment of the Kingdom of God in history, in Jesus' recommendations on vigilance (Lk 12:35-48)
"Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants.
"Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."
We must understand this vigilant attitude from the commandment to love: "I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (Jn 13:34-35) Because the earth's inhabitants will be judged from that perspective at the end of time, according to the verse from the Gospel of Matthew: "Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 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." (Mt 25:34-36)
According to what the human sciences teach us today about economics, politics, law, etc.., our response to God in this matter, not only at the end of time, but at different stages of history human, in which we have to be protagonists in every generation, has to do with the socio-political, socioeconomic and sociocultural structures we have built. Do they respond to the levels of social justice and well-being to which all human beings seen as individuals or associated as a human group, in the peoples and nations of the earth, or as specific groups -- children, women, workers, native peoples, peasants, etc., etc. -- are entitled?
Today international law, as well as civil and political rights, which are related to the human rights of the person, viewed individually, contains collective rights that are economic, social and cultural rights. Also we now speak of rights to be achieved by international collaboration such as, for example, the right to peace and the right to development.
Those of us who have the gift of faith which makes us understand that the mission of Christ in the world is to establish the Kingdom of God in human history, have a serious responsibility to promote that establishment.
Then Peter said, "Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?" And the Lord replied, “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute [the] ration at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so. Truly, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink and get drunk, then that servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful. That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more. (Lk 12:41-48)
Being disciples of the Kingdom commits us, based on the commandment to love, to work so that conditions exist in the world for human beings to receive in a timely manner the "ration" that is theirs, according to the rights inherent to their dignity as daughters and sons of God.
This ration has to do with everything that full life demands, the life in abundance that the leaven of the Gospel raises for all members of the human family, without any discrimination either by race or by religion or by social group or by condition or state of life. There is no justification for anyone to be deprived of access to the full life that belongs to them, in keeping with their dignity as a person.
The same can be said of all the peoples and communities in which the members of the human race are distributed in the world.
However, we are also quite clear that every human being, every human group, from the most basic ethical order and right judgment of human reason, is obliged to promote peace and justice in the world and a decent life for all human beings.
The irruption in human history of the Holy Spirit, creator and restorer, result of
Jesus' Passion and Resurrection (Lk 12:49-53)
“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
We understand these words of Jesus more fully in the light of Pentecost as narrated in the Gospel of John: On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (Jn 20:19-23)
The fire Jesus came to bring to the earth is the fire of the Holy Spirit that enlightens the personal and social consciences of men and women and purifies them so that they can distinguish perfectly between good and evil.
Since the Gospel of Jesus, preached and testified to by the faithful disciples of the Kingdom who are the prophets of the New Covenant initiated by Jesus' death and resurrection, there can no longer be room for the justifications that are used in the power circles of the world to commit all the kinds of atrocities and violations they wage against human life and dignity, to accumulate huge profits through their dealings.
This has been the position of the prophets of Latin America, who clearly took up what the Holy Spirit said to the Church through the conciliar Fathers present at the Second Vatican Council.
People like Enrique Angelleli in Argentina, Oscar Arnulfo Romero in El Salvador and Juan Gerardi in Guatemala, martyrs for the Gospel to the point of bloodshed, along with numerous catechists, social activists, men and women religious, and priests who were also martyred. And they are joined by Leónidas Proaño, Samuel Ruiz, Pedro Casaldáliga, and many other prophets who have lived under ongoing persecution, victims of constant threats and defamation, with all sorts of humiliation. All of them have been relentless and unstoppable in their propheticism. And it could not be otherwise. Their model has always been Jesus, whose life on earth was a sign of contradiction. But as he did, they have taken on all this with great serenity and inner peace, as those who talked about Dom Pedro Casaldáliga testified yesterday, full of "subversive love," as Dom Pedro calls the love that inspires prophets to uphold justice and right on this earth. This subversive love seeks in every way, in this moment in history, for the excluded to be integrated into the construction of the human community, with all the wealth of wisdom they possess and that characterizes them, being the preferred ones in the Kingdom of God.
In an attitude of constant vigilance, we must read the signs of the times, to hear the voice of God in them. (Lk 12:54-57)
He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west you say immediately that it is going to rain -- and so it does; and when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south you say that it is going to be hot -- and so it is. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time? Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?"
We followers of Jesus can't go on swallowing the superficial explanations through which the powerful of this world justify the systems created by them to shift billions of people away from access to well-being and a decent life. All this through the implementation of well-calculated structures to foster the conditions that right now are causing the globalization of inequality by inducing poverty whose stain extends each day to ever wider population and geographical areas, all over the planet.
Further on, the Gospel of Luke passes a few words on to us where Jesus warns of the consequences entailed by frivolity that atrophies the ability of people to properly understand the disrespect and violation of the rights of minorities in society, people who are considered insignificant. Because of this, we don't give enough importance to the events that harm them, even to the point of bringing them to an unfortunate death. But Jesus warns us that if we don't react to the abuses being committed against human beings, however insignificant they may seem to us, we will all perish in the same way.
If we do nothing to change the situation of things in this world that is so unjust, the poor will bear witness against us before God (Lk 12:58-59)
"If you are to go with your opponent before a magistrate, make an effort to settle the matter on the way; otherwise your opponent will turn you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the constable, and the constable throw you into prison. I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny."
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus' words are placed in a different context, which has to do with the offerings that are brought to the temple altar. Jesus tells us that if, when we're at an altar to worship God, we remember that someone has something against us, we are to leave the offering on the altar and go first to reconcile with the person we have offended, and then we can come back to fulfill out sacred ritual. (Mt 5:23-26)
The context in which the Gospel of Luke puts these words of Jesus, which refers to the careful interpretation we ought to make of the signs of the times, gives a much more demanding warning, because now it's not about how we have to reconcile with a single individual who was offended. The Gospel of Luke, by contextualizing these words in the careful reading of the signs of the times that Jesus advises, now puts us before a multitude of people harmed by political and economic systems that threaten human life in a systematic and recurring way, producing multiple injustices and social inequalities.
When we come before God to carry out our sacred rituals, we are to to look around ourselves and contemplate the suffering faces that call out to us, look at the plight of the victims of forced migration, and see the faces of the women and children enslaved by the lucrative business of human trafficking. Before us appear the faces of the parents who have no resources to tend to their households because they're unemployed, or exploited for miserable wages if they do have a job. The faces of those poor women, those poor men, and of the children who die prematurely, or those least and last who are condemned to be outcasts because they didn't have adequate food, when they ought to be consuming everything their body needs to have a sufficient attention and retention span for the learning process, and who perhaps won't even have the opportunity to go to school.
Before our eyes are the victims of the unjust systems that exclude, marginalize and leave so many people lying along the road. An insurmountable wall rises before them that forces them to remain at subhuman levels of life for their whole existence on this earth. We have to reconcile with all those people, as we share with them this installment of human history. Jesus urges us in his words that we are discussing, to be reconciled with them before coming before the Judge, and that such reconciliation involves justice reparations. In Jesus' words, we understand well that the Judge is God who provided all the world's resources for the well-being of all women and men who, throughout history, would populate the world.
The restoration of justice towards the poor of the earth carries with it working for the transformation of unjust structures established through imposed social models in order to concentrate in a few hands the resources destined for the well-being of all the earth's inhabitants.
If we don't assume our responsibility towards all these people, working for things to change and for just political and economic models to be established that promote the full life God intended for all His daughters and sons through justice and the respect for the rights inherent in the dignity of individuals and people, which are indispensable conditions for us to live in peace and harmony together, if we don't work for this necessary transformation of the world -- and this is Jesus' warning -- the poor will be our accusers before the Supreme Magistrate and Judge, who is God, because we didn't do anything for them.
But Jesus tells us that it may be the case that the poor will be the ones who speak for us, when we stand before the Supreme Judge, if we put ourselves at their service on earth at the opportune moment. And to encourage us to do this, Jesus gave us the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, to help us not to remain indifferent to the sufferings of the poor of the world, but to get to work to remedy them, and not in a palliative way but through a deep transformation of the structures that produce the millions of "Lazarus"s in the world today.
Paul says in First Corinthians: "Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something,
so that no human being might boast before God." (1 Cor 1:26-29)
Meanwhile, James complains in his letter that distinctions are being made between people in the community. He doesn't agree when the one who comes elegantly clothed to the meeting of the community is put in a special place and the poor person is ordered to sit on the floor, and he ends his reproach with these words: "Have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become malicious judges? Listen, my beloved brothers. Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him? But you dishonored the poor person. Are not the rich oppressing you? And do they themselves not haul you off to court? Is it not they who blaspheme the noble name that was invoked over you? However, if you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors." (Jas. 2:4-9)
Both texts reflect the care that was taken in the first Christian community that no distinctions would be made between the disciples of Jesus as to the common dignity that everyone has in the presence of God. They kept Jesus' words very well: "As for you, do not be called 'Teacher.' You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth 'Father'; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not let yourselves be called ‘Doctor’; you have but one doctor, who is the Messiah." (Mt 23:8-10) When Jesus spoke of this aspect to his followers, he did it so that they wouldn't imitate the attitude of the religious authorities of his time who liked to clearly mark the religious and social level at which they usually placed themselves, above the rest of the people.
That's why Paul emphasizes the composition of the community of Jesus, where all come from a similar level, where none is wise or mighty, or noble, and he adds that God wanted it that way, so that no one might boast before Him, that is, no one becomes part of the Christian community because of any merit of his own, so that the Christian community has as an essential condition the equal dignity of all people, because no one can boast before God of anything that puts him or her above the other sisters and brothers. The early Christian communities were very clear about this theological truth.
The Letter of James helps us understand the radical nature of this theological truth. The author of the letter reacts strongly to the partiality that is shown within the Christian communities, and states, "if you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors." (Jas 2:8-9) The commandment to love, expressed by Jesus in terms from the Book of Deuteronomy, implies the concept of common human dignity. The author of this letter in the text at hand expresses a two-fold condemnation of the practice of partiality in the Christian community, deeming those who practice it "malicious judges" and "convicted by the law as transgressors."
In this commandment to mutual love, Jesus laid the foundation of the identity of the community of his disciples to the world, stating that this would be the hallmark by which the world would recognize us as his disciples. (Jn 13:35) The fulfillment of this commandment implies preserving, living out and openly observing esteem and respect for the common dignity between us.
The Second Ecumenical Vatican Council in the constitution Lumen Gentium talks about the common dignity of all the baptized in the Church. (LG 32) This principle of common dignity among the baptized is consistent with the common dignity enjoyed by all human beings in the world. And it could not be otherwise, for the grace of Christ in which we participate, an effect of the salvation he gives us through the mystery of his death and resurrection, implies the human nature that is ours, with the dignity our Creator gave it and, although this grace which the Holy Spirit communicates to those of us who by profession of faith enter the Church through baptism, the common dignity that we possess with all members of the human family is strengthened to overcome evil in ourselves and the world, through the action of the Holy Spirit in us, yet the dignity corresponding to our personhood remains equal to that possessed by all human beings, with whom we share life in the world.
The journey we have made by reflecting on chapters 11 and 12 of the Gospel of Luke has led us to understand that for Jesus, this common dignity in which we men and women of every condition, race, religion and people participate, grants the same rights and the same obligations in the building of the world and of history. Those rights that we all have as equals are founded on human dignity that is inherent in our common nature identical in every human being and, as such rights are inherent in the dignity of our nature, every human being is obliged to respect them in their fellow men and women.
Bearing in mind Jesus' words and the Church's conviction from the beginning about these equal rights, the narratives of the Book of the Acts as well as the texts of the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians and the Letter of James to which we referred earlier, reflect this. So Paul says emphatically that God wisely called to his community people who didn't have anything to boast about before God, foolish according to the criteria of the world which make one believe that the power that money gives, or noble rank, or access to specialized human knowledge, gives them a greater rank of dignity than those who don't have it. God initially called those who weren't wise, who didn't have any power at all or noble rank. Thus the only thing everyone had was the true and proper dignity that is the same for all.
And it wasn't that nobles or rich people or those learned in the knowledge of this world were not to enter Jesus' community. Not at all. Yes, they would be able to enter, as they can today too, but the ferment Jesus creates in a true human community like that of the disciples of the Kingdom is a pedagogical vehicle for those people who have been deceived by the flattery of the world and think they're more important than the rest and, motivated by their delusions, annihilate human beings, stripping and humiliating them. On entering a true Christian community, they streamline their lives within the order of truth and love for their fellow men and women, helped by that community that lives in good measure the truth about human beings and their dignity within the values of the Kingdom. From a new mentality, such people will join the work of building a true human community, in love and respect for the life and dignity of others.
The author of the Letter of James had the same reasoning when he didn't permit partiality because of the luxurious dress of some and the poor attire of others. The two criticisms James makes, as we noted above, have to do with this equal dignity of every person.
From all these facts we have gathered from the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, and from what we have learned from the other Gospel texts and other apostolic writings to which we turned to delve deeper into the words of Jesus, we can understand the huge turnaround the Latin American Church made by making a decisive option for the poor, without falling into the temptation to evangelize them only as objects of our pastoral duties, but with the firm intention of going to read the Gospel with them, learn from them, incorporate them into our pastoral structures of making proposals, decision-making, and executing actions, as I said before. That choice moved us to radically redesign our vision and our way of being Church.
We are going from a self-referential Church, which thought it was the center of the world, to a servant Church, especially of the most forsaken, with concern for those who have distanced themselves from it and those who have always lived far from it. We have gone from an individualistic interpretation of the Gospel to one with a sense of community. With the poor incorporated into our pastoral structures, we have understood that the Church isn't built just for itself but that it should respond to the needs of the world and of history.
With the poor on our pastoral councils and teams, the Gospel is spreading its light to the streets and slums, to factories and markets, schools and universities, to places where decisions are made in the political and economic order. The Gospel is also shedding its light where public policies are decided and party candidates are chosen. We are also beginning to look at how election campaigns are structured and how the electoral processes for public offices are rigged. We also know what is happening in the prisons and what is happening in the hospitals and psychiatric facilities. With the poor, we know where the drugs are flowing, where they are being sold to young people, who has been disappeared and who has been killed, imprisoned, or tortured.
With the poor we understand why Jesus left his Church here on earth, we learn to read the Gospel intertwined with human history, and we know the reason for the Eucharist and the grace that is communicated to us through sacramental life. We learn to pray to a close and living God who consoles and accompanies us, who is present in the hearts of the simple, who maintains human warmth among many insignificant people who support each other in solidarity in their sorrows and anxieties and also participate in the feast and rejoice at the successes of their neighbors and friends.
In sum: Together with the poor in our Church communities, we understand all that God reveals only to them about the Kingdom of Heaven, the true meaning of human life and a just social order. Among them, we distinguish what is just from what isn't. From the option for them, we understand how the political and economic structures work that cause hunger and a miserable life among the sheds for so many people, etc...We understand the Gospel completely clearly. To rightly read the signs of the times.