Let justice descend, O heavens, like dew from above,/like gentle rain let the skies drop it down.
Isaiah 45: 8
Go, tell John what you have seen and heard: blind people see, lame people are walking, lepers are being cleansed and deaf people are hearing again, dead people are being raised, poor people are being told good news.
Luke 7: 22
In today’s gospel, the disciples of John the Baptist pose the direct question to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” Jesus tells them to return and describe to John what they “have seen and heard,” which is the fulfillment of the vision of Isaiah. It is in his presence among the blind, the lame, the lepers, the dead and the poor that the one who is to come can be recognized.
In his commentary on this passage as record by Luke, the scholar Luke Timothy Johnson writes:
. . . the statements [in Luke’s gospel] concerning the divine reversal, in which the categories of rich and poor played such an important role will be enacted in the story by these characters, so that “rich” in Luke effectively equals “Pharisee/lawyer,” and “poor” equals “sinner/tax-agent.” The language about possessions is not simply about money, but about power and position, about openness and closedness. (The Gospel of Luke, p. 125)
When in the language of faith we speak about a “preferential option for the poor,” we are not speaking only about a choice to be of service to the the economically deprived. Rather we are speaking, as Pope Francis continually points out, about our need to be evangelized by the poor, those poor both in body and in spirit.
Justice is a gift from God and the manifestation in human relationships of our shared human creaturehood. Justice is lacking when we deny our essential poverty as human beings and, through human arrogance and greed, create an outcast group of one kind or other to bear not only their own poverty but ours as well. There is food, gift, grace enough for all, but because some must have more than their share, others must bear the suffering of having far less. The prophets and Jesus remind us that the one whom God sends is to be found among those who are the poor, the outcast, and the marginal in life, not among the wealthy, greedy, powerful, and self-righteous.
Where do we find ourselves, not only demographically but spiritually? Do we move toward the margins in such a way as to serve the victims of the world’s selfishness but also to embrace our own marginalization? Are we willing to relinquish our comfortable but self-alienating positions and to lay aside our illusory sense of power in order to recognize and realize our own powerlessness and need for One whom we long for but do not know or understand?
God is longing to be born in us, but only if we are “poor” enough to have a space for God. As we read today in Psalm 85: 8
What God is saying means peace
for God’s people, for God’s friends,
if only they renounce their folly;
for those who fear God, God’s saving help is near,
and the glory will then live in our country.
God is constantly announcing good news, as Isaiah says, but there is so little good news among us because we refuse the gift and reality of justice. Pope Francis tells us that there is a “mysterious wisdom” in the poor. That wisdom is the Spirit of God that blows freely among us, yet is stifled in our pursuit of power and accumulation of riches. Our planet is suffocating and countless human persons throughout the earth are deprived and suffering because of the demands of some of us to be rich. This season may we all be moved to receive the gift of justice, as we accept and rejoice in our own poverty and find there the mysterious wisdom of our universal brotherhood and sisterhood.
For the Church, the option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, political or philosophical one. God shows the poor “his first mercy”. This divine preference has consequences for the faith life of all Christians, since we are called to have “this mind… which was in Jesus Christ” (Phil 2:5). Inspired by this, the Church has made an option for the poor which is understood as a “special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness”. This option – as Benedict XVI has taught – “is implicit in our Christian faith in a God who became poor for us, so as to enrich us with his poverty”. This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the centre of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.
Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, #198