In Lv. 19:1-2, 11-18, Yahweh gives his people their marching orders. Everything is based on the fact that God is God and that the people are to fear God—tremble before the glory and power of God. [I use Yahweh advisedly because that is the name God gave and the circumlocution—Lord—according to Fr. Roger Karban, a scripture scholar, was the word for Ba’al. I am afraid that Rome did not do its homework on the injunction regarding the use of this word.] Leviticus is enunciating the law which Jesus came to fulfill.
Yahweh stresses fair and equitable treatment of others. The people are to treat one another justly. The fullness of the “law” has yet to be revealed because these injunctions apply only to their fellow Jews. Jesus will broaden the invitation. Neighbor will mean every other person regardless of national origin. We Christians are to love everyone—no exceptions.
This is it—Mt 25. This is the passage that opened my eyes to my responsibilities as a Christian. I was first opened to Matthew 25 by Ferdinand Mafood, founder of Food for the Poor. This is the capstone of Jesus’ teaching and the core of Ferdy’s appeals to help the poor. We will be held accountable for how we have treated every person, especially the least among us.
Ferdy used the acumen he had gained in the import export business to buy commodities to distribute to the poor throughout the Caribbean. He did not stop there. He set up situations where the poor could produce things like palm leaf holy cards as well as other cottage industries. What expertise have we gained that we can use to alleviate human misery?
The war of words rages in Washington this year like it did last year over budget priorities, federal deficits, and health insurance. According to the Rush Limbaughs and Sarah Palins of the world, the Obama priorities are going to destroy America. Why does a war of words not rage in Washington over the $779 billion and counting we have spent on wars in Iraq and the $386 billion and counting Afghanistan? (http://costofwar.com/en/) That is over a trillion dollars which is 1,000 billion dollars. Could have bought a lot of health care, shelter, food, and education for the least among us.
Unfortunately the TEA Party “I’ve got mine. You get yours if you can” mentality has gained much traction. Where is the concern for the least among us as unions are neutered and deficit reforms are coming on the backs of the least among us? Where is the compassion for alleviating human misery? How often I am hearing, “I want to help people but I am not going to spend my hard earned money to help shiftless folks.” The Ronald Reagan “welfare queen” myth still rules.
Jesus is neither a liberal nor a conservative (He wasn’t a Christian either; he was a Jew.) but he does teach us that we are in solidarity with one another. Jesus did not say, “Help the least among you if you want to.” Neither did he say, “Help the least among you unless they are lazy and shiftless.” It seems some Christians believe they can abdicate their Gospel responsibilities if they can show that the people who need help are undeserving. Every person has the right to food, clothing, shelter, medical care and education. Why? It is simple—they are created in the very image and likeness of God and God wants them to have what they need.
The whole unworthy/shiftless argument is a white privilege copout. We the white majority, we the white Christians have created and benefit from the very cultural, social and economic structures which keep people in oppression, poverty and bondage. Many of our comforts come on the backs of those we are oppressing. We have set up social and economic structures which work to our advantage and their disadvantage.
Evangelical Christians and many Catholics have allowed the Good News for the Poor to be co-opted by the predominant secular culture; the culture John Paul II labeled “the culture of death.” No credence is given to the social-political dimensions of the Gospel. Jesus challenged the very prosperity gospel which they embrace.
We do have a responsibility to not build silos to hoard our wealth. We are to help our fellow human beings have what they need in order to live godly lives now. Our personal budgets AND our national budgets should reflect this reality. When I say these things, people call me a socialist. I simply tell them, “I am not a socialist. I am a Christian.” One person said to me, “Where do you get that nonsense.” I replied, “From the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Listen to Gregory of Nanziazen:
Brethren and friends, let us never allow ourselves to misuse what has been given us by God’s gift. If we do, we shall hear Saint Peter say: Be ashamed of yourselves for holding on to what belongs to someone else. Resolve to imitate God’s justice, and no one will be poor. Let us not labor to heap up and hoard riches while others remain in need. If we do, the prophet Amos will speak out against us with sharp and threatening words: Come now, you that say: When will the new moon be over, so that we may start selling? When will the sabbath be over, so that we may start opening our treasures?
Let us put into practice the supreme and primary law of God. He sends down rain on just and sinful alike, and causes the sun to rise on all without distinction. To all earth’s creatures he has given the broad earth, the springs, the rivers and the forests. He has given the air to the birds, and the waters to those who live in the water. He has given abundantly to all the basic needs of life, not as a private possession, not restricted by law, not divided by boundaries, but as common to all, amply and in rich measure. His gifts are not deficient in any way, because he wanted to give equality of blessing to equality of worth, and to show the abundance of his generosity.
“Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me!” Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life, and a very abundant life at that.” (Jn 10:10) If we imitate God’s justice, there will be no poor among us.
I also encourage you to read Andy Alexander, SJ’s excellent reflection for today on Matthew 25 http://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/031411.html.