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April 21, 2011
Holy Thursday

Today’s readings:
Isaiah 61:1-9
Luke 4:16-21

On this Holy Thursday, the Lord brings us to Jesus’ mission of bringing glad tidings to the poor. This is also part of our mission, and “Living a Preferential Option for the Poor” is one of our Core Values.

I reproduce herewith one of the lessons of Lamentations, which is very much still relevant, not just then, not just today, but for all time.

LAM 401-407
7 Aspects of the Nature of Work with the Poor

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.”
(Lk 4:18)

The social dimension of the gospel is part and parcel of our evangelistic work and our mission. At the turn of the millennium, in the year 2000, we proclaimed our mission to be that of Jesus, to bring glad tidings to the poor. This is part of our work, and so is part of our covenant with God. Work with the poor is at the very heart of our covenant.

Lamentations 401Work with the poor is at the very heart of God.
Our work for total human liberation again comes out of God’s call to all Christians. Jesus instructed his disciples, which include us, to continue his mission. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (Jn 20:21). And what is Jesus’ mission? “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor” (Lk 4:18). Then Jesus manifested the coming of the kingdom by curing every disease and illness (Mt 4:23), pointing to such work for liberation in all aspects that are not of the perfect kingdom of God.

Lamentations 402Work with the poor is at the very heart of Mary.
Jesus’ own mother, Mary, in her Magnificat, makes it a point to cite God’s blessings upon the poor (Lk 1:52-53). In this inspired psalm of praise, Mary refers to herself, to Israel, and to the poor (and conversely to the rich and powerful). It is but natural to refer to the first two, for Mary is the mother of God and Israel is our elder brother in the faith, and so both are important in the plan of God. But in her very short canticle, the poor are also cited. The poor must indeed be very important too in the plan of God.

Lamentations 403Work with the poor is at the very heart of the two greatest commandments, at the very core of our Christianity.
Jesus taught us about what is at the very core of the Christian life, and that is the two greatest commandments, love of God and love of neighbor. Jesus says that there are no other commandments greater than these (Mk 12:31) and that on these two depend the whole law and the prophets (Mt 22:40). Now the two commandments go together. You cannot have one without the other. John says that “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 Jn 4:20-21)

Then John specifically identifies such love as looking to brethren in need. “If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” (1 Jn 3:17-18). In the same vein, James connects good works or works of mercy with faith, emphasizing that faith without such works is dead (Jas 2:14-17). So if we love God, if we want to be true Christians, then we must look to the needs of the poor.

Lamentations 404Work with the poor is at the very heart of Christian community.
The first Christian community was a community of the poor, but where there was no one in need due to fraternal sharing (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35). This first Christian community of the poor remains our model for community life today. Such life of sharing and caring is in fact the ultimate solution to poverty, oppression and injustice in the world.

Lamentations 405Work with the poor is at the very heart of mission.
During the Council of Jerusalem, when the Church elders discussed the work of evangelization and mission, Paul was specifically told “to be mindful of the poor,” which of course Paul was already eager to do (Gal 2:10). In the grand work of winning the world for Christ, being mindful of the poor is to be a crucial ingredient.

Lamentations 406Work with the poor is at the very heart of our faith.
James realized something profound about our faith. He said, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (Jas 2:14-17). What does this say about Christians who pray for the poor, have sympathy for the poor, pronounce blessings upon the poor, but do not actually act in helping the poor in their material needs? Their faith is dead! They are not true Christians!

Lamentations 407Work with the poor is at the very heart of our salvation.
And since such faith is dead, then we can understand better Jesus’ parable about the judgment of the nations at the end of time, where those who do not look to the needs of the poor are condemned to hell. In this very clear parable, the only criterion for entry into heaven, and conversely for damnation in hell, is what we did for the least of our brethren (Mt 25:31-46).

(taken from 40 Days of Lamentations)

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