Invitation to Solidarity
Sunday, May 24, 2020
Throughout human history, countless people have been poor, vulnerable, or oppressed in some way. Those holding positions of authority within systems of power secure their own privilege, comfort, and wealth—almost always at the expense of those most on the margins. Much of history has been recorded to hide this fact and instead celebrates the so-called “winners.” I call this systemic reality a form of sin, or what the apostle Paul describes as the “the world” (Ephesians 2:1–2). This type of corporate evil is often culturally agreed-upon, admired, and deemed necessary, as is normally the case when a country goes to war, spends most of its budget on armaments, admires luxuries over necessities, entertains itself to death, or pollutes its common water and air.
The hidden nature of systemic oppression makes it all the more remarkable that the revelation of God in the Bible is written from the perspective of the oppressed. The Bible reveals a liberating path of humility, compassion, and nonviolence in the face of oppression that culminates in the life, ministry, and state-sponsored execution of Jesus.
We see in the Gospels that the people who tend to follow Jesus are the ones on the margins: the lame, poor, blind, prostitutes, drunkards, tax collectors, and foreigners. He lived in close proximity to and in solidarity with the excluded ones in his society. Those on the inside and at the center of power are the ones who crucify him: elders, chief priests, teachers of the Law, scribes, and Roman occupiers. Yet we still honor people in these latter roles and shun the ones in the former.
For the first three hundred years after Jesus’ death, Christians were the oppressed minority. But by the year 400 C.E., Christians had changed places. We moved from hiding in the catacombs to presiding in the basilicas. That is when we started reading the Bible not as subversive literature, the story of the oppressed, but as establishment literature to justify the status quo of people in power.
When Christians began to gain positions of power and privilege, they also began to ignore segments of Scriptures, especially the Sermon on the Mount. Our position in society determines what we pay attention to and what systems we are willing to “go along with.” This is what allowed “Christian” empires throughout history to brutalize and oppress others in the name of God. Sadly, this is still the case today.
But when the Bible is read through the eyes of solidarity—what we call the “preferential option for the poor” or the “bias from the margins”—it will always be liberating, transformative, and empowering in a completely different way. Read this way, Scripture cannot be used by those with power to oppress or impress. The question is no longer “How can I maintain my special and secure status?” It is “How can we all grow and change together?” I think the acceptance of that invitation to solidarity with the larger pain of the world is what it means to be a “Christian.”
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Yes, And . . . Daily Meditations, (Franciscan Media: 2013), 37, 39;
Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 22; and
What Do We Do with Evil?: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (CAC Publishing: 2019), 11.