Option for the Least — A Biblical Perspective
Valan C. Antony S.J.
Image: Prashanth Pinha via Unsplash
Ultimately, is it not true that the way one defines justice reveals the God one reveres? Of course, yes. Biblical justice basically means “fidelity to the demands of relationship between God and God’s people.” God has always been faithful to his part of the covenantal relationship, while humans simply “fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). This fidelity on God’s part is seen in the special care and love for the least, the lost and the last he has showered down the memory lane of human history. God, taking the side of the least, as their protector and sustainer is attested in the Prophetic literature, in the Psalms, and reinforced in the Beatitudes (Mt 5). In fact, the treatment of the least is the litmus test of a Christian affecting his/her manner of living and loving, the choices he/she makes and the commitment to the societal transformation.
The Bible emphatically affirms that God is not distant or indifferent or neutral, but opts for the least — the poor, the weak, the widows, the orphans, people with disabilities, and victims of oppression and the vulnerable who get a “hermeneutical privilege.” It is not merely a compassionate feeling but a willing decision (“to opt”) to do what is just and morally commendable. It is not arbitrary but rooted and grounded in the very being of God as love. This is what is celebrated in the foundational experience, the Exodus event (Ex 1:8–14; 2: 23–35; 3:7–10). God, hearing the cry of the poor (Ps 34), opts to deliver the least as a demonstration of his loving identity and fidelity, his ‘universal embrace,’ (therefore no one is left out). Again, this option is not based on merit or accomplishment on the part of the humans but on the extravagant compassion of God, a gift for sure. This gift involves an invitation to the people to form a covenantal community, in which the same attitude of God towards the least would be evident (Ex 22: 21–23; Dt 16.11–12).
Jesus, who reflects God’s heart for us, unequivocally opted for the least. He proclaims that he has been anointed “to bring good news to the poor” (Lk 4:18). He spends time with the marginalized, the outcasts, the lost ones which reveals God’s ‘choice.’ He is not impartial in the face of oppression, marginalization, and assaults on human goodness and dignity. His priority is so emphatic that he makes option for the least and in fact, that alone serves as the kernel of the final consideration in the judgment scene (Mt 25:31–46). Such a choice, therefore, is not optional but obligatory; one has to read the parables of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19–31) and of the rich fool (Lk 12:13–21) to grasp this perspective. Matthew Kelley is right when, in Rediscovering Jesus, he says that it is “impossible to separate the spiritual teachings of Jesus Christ from His social teachings, just as it is impossible to separate our Love of God from our Love of neighbor.”
Millions of people, the least ones, are still ‘crucified,’ and the biblical demand is to bring “the crucified people down from the cross,” (Jon Sobrino) something to be done in a holistic way. It is because they “tell us what the world is, and what the church’s service to the world should be” (Oscar Romero). This “is not ideological but is born from the Gospel” and is “implicit in the Christological faith in the God who became poor for us, so as to enrich us with his poverty (cf. 2 Cor 8: 9)” (Benedict XVI). In short, we can safely affirm that it is consistently biblical that the least, the lost, and the last have always been the top “priority” of the Biblical God, whom Jesus Christ revealed.
(Fr. Valan C. Antony, is a Jesuit belonging to the Calcutta Province of the Society of Jesus. He has a theology degree with distinction from Vidyajyoti College, Delhi. Having spent a year at Hebrew University, Jerusalem specializing in Biblical studies, he acquired the Licentiate (SSL) degree in Sacred Scripture from Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome. He specialised in Pauline Studies for his Phd. studies at Santa Clara University, Berkeley, California, USA. With a distinction in his doctoral studies from the said-university, he has been teaching Bible at the Post-graduate level at Vidyajyoti College, Delhi. Besides his teaching, writing, preaching retreats, conducting seminars and guiding Phd students, he is involved pastorally in the weekends in different parishes in the Archdiocese of Delhi. Presently he is the Director of Post-Graduate studies at Vidyajyoti College, Delhi. )
‘Who except God visits the poor?’
“The day came for the image from the temple to be drawn round the holy town
in its chariot.
The Queen said to the King, ‘Let us go and attend the festival.’
Only one man out of the whole household did not join in the pilgrimage.
His work was to collect stalks of spear-grass to make brooms for the King’s house.
The chief of the servants said in pity to him, ‘You may come with us.’
He bowed his head, saying, ‘It cannot be.’
The man dwelt by the road along which the King’s followers had to pass.
And when the Minister’s elephant reached this spot, he called to him and said,
‘Come with us and see the God ride in his chariot!’
I dare not seek God after the King’s fashion,’ said the man.
‘How should you ever have such luck again as to see the God in his chariot?’ asked the Minister.
‘When God himself comes to my door,’ answered the man.
The Minister laughed loud and said, ‘Fool! “When God comes to your door!” yet a King must travel to see him!’
‘Who except God visits the poor?’ said the man.”