Sunday, October 4, 2009

What Does the Gospel Have to Do With the Poor and the Oppressed?

What does the Gospel have to do with the poor? St. Luke tells us that Christ said: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed" (Luke 4:18).

The Gospel belongs especially to the poor. St. Luke tells us that "…he [Christ] lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: 'Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God'" (Luke 6:20). St. James instructs us concerning the poor and of how they have been chosen by God to believe the Gospel: "Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?" (James 2:5).

Off the top of my head, I can think of two nations that use poor foreigners to do work within their societies while building a wall/fence to keep poor foreigners out of their societies: The United States and Israel. The U. S. uses poor Mexicans to do work within their society while building a wall/fence to keep poor Mexicans out of their society. Israel uses poor Palestinians to do work within their society while building a wall/fence to keep poor Palestinians out of their society.

There is obviously something wrong with this situation, especially in the Israel/Palestine region: the wealthy are using the poor to increase their own wealth, while at the same time oppressing them. Proverbs 22:16 tells us that: "He who oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to want." A scripture passage like that ought to make the U. S. and Israel fear for the welfare of their nations. Could both Israel and the U. S. come to nothing due to their self-centered exploitation of the poor?

Phenomenologically, especially in the Israel/Palestine region, the tragedy of this exploitive situation is made evident by aerial photographs taken of the border/wall/fence region, which clearly show the apartheid-like dissimilarities between two societies; one of which appears to be quite wealthy while the other appears to be desperately poor. A very good film, which is based on true story, Stander, opens with aerial footage showing exactly this sort of dissimilarity between the rich Afrikaner society and the poor black townships of South Africa during apartheid. And it's appalling.

As I said in a previous post, many Christians believe Israel has a right to exist, based on biblical promises made by God to Israel concerning the Holy Land, and they support the oppression of what is seen as Israel's enemies: the Palestinian people along with their supporters. But the modern nation of Israel is not the inheritance of the Promised Land by the people of the Jewish nation; rather, it's a modern secular state with modern geostrategic interests. These Christians, here, face quite a dilemma: do they support what is obviously a wealthy oppressive regime that lords itself over its poor neighbor? Or does it do what Christians are required to do: to be concerned for the welfare of the poor and to deny any support to their oppressors?

"Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, 'Here I am'" (Isaiah 58:5-9).

"When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of 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, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.' And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.'" (Matthew 25:31-46)

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