During his tour of Latin America last week, Pope Francis had a few things to say about capitalism and how the poor are being treated in the world today. Before large rallies in Paraguay and Bolivia, the Pope spoke intensely about what capitalism has done to poor families around the world.
“Putting bread on the table, putting a roof over the heads of one’s children, giving them health and an education, these are essential for human dignity,” he said to one rally group. At another, he encouraged those listening to remember that it’s the grassroots movements that often motivates change. “What can be done by those students, those young people, those activists, those missionaries who come to my neighborhood with the hearts full of hopes and dreams but without any real solution for my problems? A lot! They can do a lot.”
In a recent article, the New York Times mentioned that this view of elevating the poor and preaching against the economic oppression of the poor is something the Catholic church has concentrated on for at least the last century.
Indeed, this isn’t the first time Pope Francis has tackled the issues of capitalism, wealth disparity and the poor. It has been a theme in his speeches since becoming Pope in 2013. While he makes many remarks about the issue of wealth and the idolatry of it, he has yet to release any statement or plans about how the Catholic church plans to address it globally.
However, a close examination of Scripture would indicate that justice for the poor and oppressed is something the Lord has commanded His people to be aware of and help for thousands of years. The plight of the poor is not an issue that is only a century old. Poverty is a problem that has existed throughout history.
Jesus reminded the disciples that the poor would always be with them – and us. The disciples ministered to the poor and widowed among them by pooling together all they had and giving away resources as they were able. The Psalms are full of the Lord’s promises of justice for the poor.
Poverty and economics are not a bully pulpit issue. While the call for equality, fair pay, and adjustments to systems that oppress people is a great sound bite, there is actual work to be done. Perhaps the solution isn’t only fixing political systems. Maybe some of the relief that can be offered to the poor is in the people of God returning to one of the foundational commands of the Gospel:
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:35-40 (ESV)