04 March 2013

The Bible is Important

This semester, I am enrolled in "Catholic Social Ethics."  Part of the requirement for the course is to create three "blog posts" throughout the semester and upload them to the class' website.  What follows is my third attempt.

Just as have seen that the Gospel repeats and deepens an Old Testament idea, namely, Yahweh’s preference for the poor, whom He practically identifies as His own people, so here we find that two wisdom themes provide the background.  First, wealth isolates its possessors from God and fills them with a sense of their own self-sufficiency; secondly, riches cannot be a final end because they are essentially deceptive.  But the Gospel introduces a new note: these relative values are confronted with the kingdom of God, a sharply defined absolute value which is the pearl of great price requiring the surrender of all we have (Mt. 13:45-46).

Albert Gelin, P.S.S.,
The Poor of Yahweh, 101
Translated by Mother Kathryn Sullivan, RSCJ

At some point in college, one of my professors, a Capuchin, the man through whom the Holy Spirit worked most notably to foster in me a vocation to the Capuchins, gave me a photocopied version of Albert Gelin’s The Poor of Yahweh.  I find myself referring to it often whenever the preferential option for the poor is bandied about, precisely because Gelin relates this concept in a distinct and particular biblical way.

Gelin provides a needed antidote for the over-simplifying tendency of those who reduce God’s Christ to a mere social activist named Jesus.  Take for instance, Thompson’s assertion that “His [Jesus’] message so disturbed the powerful that he was crucified as a revolutionary” (cf. Introduction to Catholic Social Thought, 90).  To this, I say, “Yes, but…”  Or, more biblically: “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God” (Jn. 19:7b).  Jesus received a sentence of death because He claimed the title of God’s Son; it is because He was God’s Son that He proclaimed a message of freedom to the poor and the oppressed.  He was raised from the dead for exactly the same reason (He was right!).  We do ourselves a disservice by reversing the order of the kerygmatic syllogism.  Or, perhaps to put it more pithily: terrible things happen to our Christology when we don’t read take Sacred Scripture with due seriousness. 

These statements are all just a shorthand way of saying that I have come to believe in the preferential option for the poor deeply, not because of any type of extended social analysis in the first place, but rather because of the witness of  the Sacred Scriptures.  Scripture tells us explicitly that God has definitively taken the side of the poor throughout all of history.  He has intervened through Moses and the prophets; He intervened stupendously in the Incarnation of the Word. 

Thus, I can say that I believe in the preferential option for the poor primarily and enduringly because of God’s witness in history.  What’s more, I can go a step further by claiming that the Franciscan pursuit of poverty is not, as some have claimed a mere act of torpid solidarity (in other words: I’m poor until I need something).  No, a true Franciscan witness (and one of which, I should add, I fall terribly short), embraces Lady Poverty for the same reasons stated by Gelin above: poverty reminds us that we are not self-sufficient and that material richness only ends in the delusion that we can really own anything (except, of course, as Francis said, our own sin). 

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