LOVE OF NEIGHBOR
AS THE ESSENCE OF SOCIAL JUSTICE AND OF CHRISTIANITY
University of the Incarnate Word
“God is that very love with which we love one another.”
“The Church is and wants to be a church of all, but mainly a church of the poor.”
(Pope John XXIII)
“The option for the poor is, for Jesus, a central and decisive criterion for salvation: the love of the poor cannot be separated from the love of God.”
“The option for the poor is the root of the political dimension of the faith and its most fundamental characteristic.”
(Oscar Arnulfo Romero, martyred Archbishop of El Salvador)
Christianity in the 21st century runs the risk of becoming just another religion if it keeps distancing itself farther and farther from its Jesuan and apostolic origins which must always remain as the benchmarks for evaluating its authenticity. The temptation has always been, and continues to be, to accommodate itself to the ways of the world, to go for earthly success, numbers of converts, power, security etc. Already in the early 3rd century this accommodation began to shape the Constantinian turnaround that made the Christian church an ally of the Roman state and of the rich and powerful in the early 4th century. It encountered resistance, however, and the Good News of Jesus announced to the poor and the weak was preserved intact by many Christian communities; hence the many reform movements and saintly lives which, throughout the centuries, have constantly tried to return to the pristine example of the church of the first two centuries. The church’s faithfulness to the Good News of the Reign announced to the poor, now usually referred to as the “preferential option for the poor,” will always remain as the one unique trait that translates Jesus’ central command to “love thy neighbor as thyself (Mt 5: 42-48; 12: 19; 19: 22, 39-40; Jn 13: 34-35; 15: 12-17; Rm 13: 8-10; 1 Cor 13: 1-18). This faithfulness in fashioning God’s Reign cannot be genuine unless Christianity upholds and exemplifies the example of Jesus in terms of insisting that the wealth of the earth must benefit all of God’s children and that poverty is the result of injustice.
If Jesus came back to earth to visit some Christian communities today, would He commend them for their magnificent liturgies, their Gospel revivals, their many hours spent in Sunday worship, and their gatherings in mega churches to listen to spell-binding preachers who make them feel good by speaking of a Son of Mary not found in the Scriptures? Or would He be hardly recognized and treated as a dangerous lunatic who speaks of a God quite different from the god these Christians worship?