Sun 10 Nov. 2013, 14:00 CAT
MOSES Sakala of the Sakala Brothers says there is no better cause than to stand up for the poor and the vulnerable in society. We agree. Christ's entire doctrine was devoted to the humble, the poor; his doctrine was devoted to fighting against abuse, injustice and the degradation of human beings.
This makes us recall Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro's 1971 talk with Catholics in Chile, his 1977 meeting with ministers in Jamaica, and that phrase of his in the first few years of the revolution: "He who betrays the poor betrays Christ."
Truly, this is so because it is your fellow man, and especially one who lacks life and needs justice, in whom God wishes to be served and loved. They are the ones with whom Jesus identified. This is the best way to follow Jesus, especially in Zambia's present situation.
In advice to a king, we are told in Proverbs 31:8-9: "Speak up for people who cannot speak for themselves. Protect the rights of all who are helpless. Speak for them and be a righteous judge. Protect the rights of the poor and needy."
In Sirach 18:25-27, we are reminded: "When you have all you want, think what it is like to be hungry, what it is to be poor. Things can change in a single day; the Lord can act very quickly."
The poor are in a weak position and they need someone to speak up for them and to protect their interests. And speaking up for the poor and defending their interests is not a riskless undertaking. As Bishop Dennis de Jong once observed, "The prophets stood on the side of God and the side of the poor and got themselves in trouble and imprisoned.
Jeremiah was thrown into a well, exiled and so forth. Sometimes some of our people say, 'you shouldn't be speaking out like that, you will get into trouble'. I think it is true that we have forgotten the principles of fairness and justice as well as love of our neighbour and our duty to protect the poor. We should appreciate that most countries start off with a great deal of hope.
But suddenly, we forget God somewhere along the line. We forget the poor. The decisions we make, the policies we put in place affect the poor and we should be mindful of that. The poor are never really consulted or helped to analyse the problems they face.
We, together with the government and other agencies, should be helping them to find solutions" (Bantu Magazine, March 2000, Edition No.3). Only thus can we avoid the myth of a formal democracy which hides a situation of injustice.
COMMENT - By the way, 'Bantu Magazine' is part of the corporate funded anti-ZANU-PF NGO WOZA (Women of Zimbabwe Arise). They give their address as Johannesburg, South Africa. - MrK
Actually, if beyond juridical laws, a more profound sense of respect and service of one another is lacking, and even of an equality before the law, it could serve as an alibi for flagrant discrimination, for constant exploitation, for effective deceit.
There is no political participation without economic participation. The poor cannot be said to be participating in our democratic processes while they remain poor.
The poor in the gospel do not constitute a "class" per se, but a quality of availability, who usually co-exist in a situation of economic crisis.
And it would be dangerous to minimise the elements of real poverty by "making spiritual" what in the scripture appears as a virtue, because it belongs to the poor. The poor are also the oppressed, the humble, the enslaved, and for the most part, it's the rich, the powerful and the violent ones who are to be blamed for causing this evil.
When Jesus says: "Blessed are the poor in spirit," by poverty he means an attitude of total orientation to God. And absence of property is really included, because material possessions enslave persons and take their liberties away from the true meaning that they should give to their life. The true support, the true security, the treasure that counts is the Lord. It is the same idea in Sophonias: "But I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord."
In St James' epistle, there are similar vibrations. One finds constant preaching of the prophet favouring the poor. The poor deserve respect. They must be sought out in contrast to the rich. We must look at them with acceptance, because: "did not God choose those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith? Are not the rich exploiting you? They are the ones who haul you into the courts…" (James 2:6).
From the eschatological perspective, with the sort of eschatology that has already began, then we are already in the "last days". St James points out: "Now, then, you rich persons, cry and yell for the affliction that will be coming upon you. Your riches are rotten and your garments have become moth-eaten… Behold, the wages that you have not paid to the peasants who reaped your fields cry out as a protest; the shouts of the field workers have reached the ears of the Lord." In this last expression, there is a clear reference to Exodus 22:22.
In Christ's preaching, preaching against the rich who he calls "unfortunate," we find a relationship to the theme of idolatry that existed in the old covenant. Riches are a form of idolatry: the idolatrous person is the one who assigns an absolute value to something that did not have value before. The unique absolute is God. Wealth is a form of idolised cult. From another viewpoint, it is an institution, a lack of availability. Its chains are heavy. An alienated person is also alienating.
Poverty is a liberator. Human agility permits a response. It gives the poor an approach to God and to others. The beatitude of poverty in St Matthew's gospel and his clear reference to the poverty of the spirit is something quite demanding. Obviously he wanted to emphasise - not to forget or relegate to a secondary level - the fact that it was not enough to be really poor because of lack of possessions but to stress that one should consent to this lack of possessions up to a certain point. Here this is not the case of differentiating - as we do it in modern times - poverty as an evangelic command and destitution.
Christians in their special vocation can sometimes play the role of the destitute as a protest against misery in a perspective of authentic awareness.
All this should be very deeply understood in all its meanings. And as Bishop Charles Kasonde of the Catholic Diocese of Solwezi says, "responding positively to empowering the poor and defenceless is a special calling". We should always be mindful of how our decisions and actions affect the poor; "he who betrays the poor betrays Christ".