…you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that for your sake he became poor although he was rich,
so that by his poverty you might become rich.
2 Corinthians 8: 9
God became poor.
It’s as simple and challenging as that.
God gave up power and identified with the poor.
This passage from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians and the hymn to the God who emptied self (Philippians 2: 5-22) continue to challenge me, even as I minister here in Honduras among the poor. For i continue to live a rather middle class life.
And so, how am I called to follow Christ’s incarnation among the poor?
The Brazilian theologian Silvia Regina De Lima Silva posits a first step: contact with the poor.
I see the option for the poor as a change in our social position. You choose to begin to think about things from the perspective of the poor. Often this becomes a change not just in social place, but in geographic place. That is, if you want to opt for the poor you must at least have contact with these poor persons. Sometimes, not always, you also have to live with these poor persons, share in their lives.
I have a lot of contact with the poor, though not as much as I would like. But is that enough?
I think a second step is needed: recognition of the dignity of the poor, that I am not superior to them.
As retired bishop Dom Pedro Casadaliga said:
When I begin to understand that every other person, every poor person is an equal to myself, I can no longer retain my privileges, because to do that would be robbery. I cannot merely give donations, I must pay back what I owe. There’s a difference.
In my ministry with the poor, I try to remember that I am not above them, beter than them. Even when I’m leading a training of catechists, I try to reveal to them and to me that this is a joint process of learning, of finding God and sharing God’s love.
That will mean a change of life, The late US Jesuit, Dean Brackley, who served many years in El Salvador puts it well:
In the [United] States, the great challenge for Christianity is now downward mobility, if that makes sense. The challenge is not to help the poor to join the rich; it’s to help the rich join the poor. That’s where our salvation is. Remember what St. Ignatius called the dangerous road: the road of riches, honor and pride. Its converse is Christ’s road: the road of poverty, humiliation, persecution, humility. That’s where we find life.
This downward mobility will mean for some a change of place, a change of career. But fundamentally it requires of us a change of heart, putting our heart with the poor, as Jesus did.
As Brazilian theologian Clodovis Boff put it:
…it is not possible for a rich person, as a rich person, to be a Christian unless he puts his riches, his position, his strength at the service of the poor — which is extremely rare. It’s like a personal death.
As for the middle class, normally they don’t have such a firm class position, they blow with the wind, revolutionary or reactionary. The option for the poor demands a decision, a definition of class. It doesn’t matter what class or profession you are. The important thing is what side you’re on. In what direction do you put your strength as a professor, a doctor, a landowner, a business person.
What side am I on?
Jesus identified with the side of the poor.
All the quotations, except for Dean Brackley’s, come from Mev Puleo’s The Struggle Is One: Voices and Visions of Liberation.