On taking sides

“Demands involving the distribution of wealth, concern for the poor and human rights cannot be suppressed under the guise of creating a consensus on paper or a transient peace for a contented minority. The dignity of the human person and the common good rank higher than the comfort of those who refuse to renounce their privileges. When these values are threatened, a prophetic voice must be raised.”

~Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 218

(Image: Pope Francis Riles Wall Street, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib)

The Prophet Amos doesn’t pull any punches:

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!

The LORD promises not to forget the scale-fixing, eagerness to defraud, buy and sell human persons, and get away with giving the very worst to the very least.

The Psalmist reminds us of the character of God:

High above all nations is the LORD; above the heavens is his glory.

And this exaltation is also reserved for the lowly and the poor. St. Paul asks his disciple Timothy that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.

That kings and all in authority needed to be called out, because that early community of Jesus-followers was so often under scrutiny by the authorities. Remember that their leader – their Lord, the Son of God – was tortured and executed by the state.

We often find ourselves in much cozier relationships with the state. ‘What’s in it for us’ often trumps what’s in it for the needy, the poor, the vulnerable. We might long for the quiet and tranquil life sought by our ancestors but we face struggles both similar to and different from theirs as we live the abundant life of God in the midst of a culture of death.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells the story of the shrewd steward. Faced with imminent firing (and under a master likely engaged in some questionable practices of his own), he went around and reduced what was owed to his master. This isn’t a morality tale about business practices. But it is clearly a story about money. “You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

We will either serve the interests of money and wealth or we will serve God and our neighbor. In fact, Jesus distances himself from a sort of health-and-wealth theology saying, “Make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” And dishonesty in very small matters reflects trustworthiness in great ones. So, Jesus says,

If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?  If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? 

It’s not the contrast between ‘dirty money’ and ‘clean money’ at stake here but rather the contrast between all hoarding of riches in contrast to the true riches, the very abundance of God’s creation, of which the catechism states, “the universal destination of goods remains primordial” (CCC #2403).

“No servant can serve two masters.” We have to take sides. We can side with money and power, we can tie ourselves, our dollars, our loyalties to political parties, or factions within the church, or family or other tribal loyalties… Or we can side with God. All those other loyalties become idols and gods precisely because they claim to represent the side of God. But, for those who have ears to hear, echoes of a different loyalty calls out: loving the God of Israel and Jesus Christ in the needy, the poor, the vulnerable. And all of our other loyalties just got a lot more complicated…

In solidarity,

Greg Walgenbach, Director, Office of Life, Justice & Peace