Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Cause of the Poor--Central to the Program of Jesus

An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Luke 4:1-4; 14-21, January 27, 2013

WHEN PRESIDENT AQUINO made his inaugural speech at the Quirino Grandstand on June 30, 2010, he outlined the program of what he was about to set in motion during his tenture.  Although most listeners would certainly have difficulty in remembering all the points that he had stressed, yet many remembered the catchy highlights: “Samahan ninyo ako sa matuwid na landas… Kayo ang boss ko, kaya hindi maaaring hindi ako making sa mg autos ninyo…  There can be no reconciliation without justice… Kami an narito para magsilbi, hindi para maghari… Sa tamang pamamahala, gaganda an buhay ng lahat… Walang lamangan, walang padrino, at walang pagnanakaw.  Walang wangwang, walang counterflow, walang tong…”  For many people, these sayings were meant to define Aquino’s presidency, and they expected him to fulfill his manifesto.

          The second segment of today’s Gospel (Luke 4:14-21) fulfills a programmatic function for the Gospel and the Book of Acts, as it serves as a preface to Jesus’ public ministry, in which Jesus made his inaugural speech.  What was Jesus trying to say?  Since he was quoting from Trito-Isaiah, which promised freedom to the Jewish exiles in Babylonia in 6th century BC, he was actually saying that the liberation of his people is being fulfilled in his person, in his talk and in his walk: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to released the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).  Thus, Jesus assumed the role of a liberator of the underprivileged to which the downtrodden, the blind, the imprisoned debtors and the poor belong.

          Jesus’ cause is the liberation of the underprivileged.  One wonders whether Philippine Presidents fulfill the promises they made at their inaugural speech, but Jesus really carried out his program, as can be seen from the rest of Luke’s Gospel.  Though his friendship with some rich people, on scholarly grounds, could be put into question, there is not a single iota of doubt that his life was dominated by a ministry to the poor.  His words of consolation, his preaching of the kingdom, his words of forgiveness, his healings and exorcisms, his table fellowship were almost without exception directed to those who belong to the lower rungs of the Jewish society.  While Presidents may not take seriously the pledged they have made during their inaugural speech (probably there being no intention to fulfill them), there is scarcely any question that Jesus was consistent with what he said in his programmatic talk: the poor was his cause.

          One major problem with the way we lived our Christianity in history is that instead of taking up again the cause of Christ, many of us have so made Jesus an icon that we have almost forgotten his cause.  Of course, to make him an icon is reasonable enough.  He was no ordinary man; he was really God, and early in the history of the Church, there were already the rudimentary beginnings of the tradition of worshipping him.  “Therefore God exalted him in the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11).  But whether this should be the dominant feature of the life of Christianity, this could be a subject of debate.  There should be celebration of Christian life, that can be easily conceded, but first and foremost, there ought to be a Christian life worth celebrating about, and that life could only be patterned after the life of Christ that is dominated by a ministry to the underprivileged.

          The poor are the losers in human history.  They are cursed, dominated, taken advantaged of, fooled, degraded, not counted, oppressed, used, subjugated, pawned, forgotten, disenfranchised.  In a human society where they are a majority, one wonders whether God can be happy about their lot.  In the Old Testament, God takes the cause of the poor: “I have witnessed the affliction of my people… therefore I have come down to rescue them” (Exod 3:7-8).  In a Christian community, greater honor is to be given to those from the underside of history. As Paul, in the 2nd Reading, puts it, “God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to the lowly members, that there be no dissention in the body, but all the members may be concerned for one another” (1 Cor 12:24-25).

          Clearly, if it is to continue the cause of Christ, the Church has no alternative but to take up the cause of the poor.  She should be a Church of the poor, as John XXIII has already noted, a poor Church.  As a Christian community, it is incumbent upon us to make an option for the poor in a situation in which the bulk of humanity is poor.  As John Paul II said in Centesimus Annus, the Church “has become more aware of the fact that too many people live not in the prosperity of the Western world but in the poverty of the developing countries amid conditions which are still ‘a yoke little better than that of slavery itself”, he has felt and continues to feel obliged to denounce this fact with absolute clarity and frankness” (n 61).  We do not only talk, we walk our talk.  Jesus’ life was a witness to his cause: he was poor, he had nothing to lay his head on, he died poor, and in solidarity with the oppressed.  The lifestyle of both clergy and laity ought to be a witness to poverty.

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