You despise the poor

Today’s first reading, James 2: 1-9, is an indictment of discrimination against the poor in the Christian assembly.

I live in a country, Honduras, with a strong class structure. The poor are looked down upon, despised.

I have heard a professional here in Santa Rosa complain that the priests don’t understand professional people like him because most of them come from the countryside and are  campesinos.

I also recall that several years ago the president of the Honduran Congress, who later became  the de facto president after the 2009 coup, called people of the countryside who opposed him on mining issues “gente del monte,” – best translated as hillbillies or hicks.

Such shameful treatment of the poor, such verbal degradation, is not uncommon in a class society such as in Honduras.

Is it a wonder then the campesinos seem to have a self-esteem problem. But their low self-esteem is in part socially induced. It is a social construct of the dominant powers.

And so when I work with them in training of catechists or other pastoral workers I consider it important to remind them of their dignity as children of God, all of us made in God’s image and likeness. I also seek to help them see their wisdom and worth – that they have something to offer in our discussions. I often call them my teachers, asking them to correct my errors in Spanish.

But the discrimination continues. The killing of about 356 men in the Tuesday night fire in the Comayagua, Honduras, prison reveals again how this society treats the poor and despised of the earth.

But the wisdom of the Letter of James (2: 5-6) is so different:

Listen, my beloved brothers [ands sisters], did God not choose the poor of this world to receive the riches of faith and to inherit the kingdom which He promised to those who love him. Yet you dishonor the poor.

The word translated above as “dishonor” can also be translated as “despise” or “treat shamefully”. Woe are we, individuals and societies, who treat the poor so shamefully.

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