The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
Does God really have a preferential option for the poor?
As I was reading today’s first reading from Sirach (Ecclesiastes) 35, I noted a glaring inconsistency between the Spanish and English lectionary translations.
The Spanish reads:
El Señor es un juez que no se deja impresionar por aparencias.
No menosprecia a nadie por ser pobre
y escucha las súplicas del oprimido.
The Lord is a judge
who does not let himself be impressed by appearances.
He does not despise anyone for being poor
and he hears the cries of the oppressed.
But the English reads:
The Lord is a God of justice,
who knows no favorites.
Though not unduly partial toward the weak,
yet he hears the cry of the oppressed.
What does the scripture really say?
The English translation from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) – “He will not show partiality to the poor” – is like the lectionary translation from the New American Bible (NAB).
I don’t have a copy of the Greek Septuagint (since this is one of those books that are not found in most Protestant Bibles). But I checked several translations.
The Jerusalem Bible reads
the Lord is a judge
who is no respecter of personages.
He shows no respect of personages to the detriment of a poor man,
he listens to the plea of the injured party.
The Christian Community Bible likewise reads
The Lord is judge and shows no partiality.
He will not disadvantage the poor,
he who hears the prayer of the oppressed.
The New Jerusalem Bible reads (for the third line):
He never shows partiality to the detriment of the poor.
My Latin is weak, but the Vulgate seems to reflect these translations – not the NAB or NRSV
Non accipiet Dominus personam in pauperem
God doesn’t accept the person against the poor.
One edition of La Biblia Latinoamericana reads:
El no se deja influenciar por la situación del que perjudica al pobre;
He doesn’t let himself be influenced by the situation of the one who harms the poor.
Other editions read:
Nunca recibirá mal al pobre
He will never receive (welcome) evil to (against) the poor.
La Biblia de Nuestro Pueblo reads
no favorece a nadie contra el pobre
He does not favor anyone against the poor.
Why this tedious comparisons of text?
I think it is important to be aware that sometimes the translations we favor are not always accurate but may reflect our prejudices. It is comforting for a North American congregation to hear that God is “not unduly partial towards the weak.” But it is quite uncomfortable to hear that God does not favor anyone acting against the poor.
The tradition of the church seems to favor the more difficult translation, as the Fathers of the Church take the side of the poor, often against the rich and as the popes, at least since Pope John XXIII have called for a “Church of the poor” or a “Church for the poor.” The Latin American bishops have taught us that God has a preferential option for the poor, a call taken up by the universal Church.
What translation, then, will we let guide our lives?