By Rev. Mari Castellanos, D.Min.
For those of us who believe in the Incarnation, Jesus is the solidarity of God.
Emmanuel, God is with us. When we look at the manger or the flight to Egypt; when we contemplate the healing of the lepers, when we kneel before the cross, we do not see Christ the King. We do not see a triumphant Messiah. We see the Servant of Yahweh who suffered the lot of the poor, the voiceless, the oppressed. In the gospels, Jesus says to us: “if anyone wants to be my follower, let them pick up their cross and follow me.” But, we can actually say that it was Jesus who picked up the cross of the poor and followed them, as an act of solidarity. The poor have preceded, followed and walked alongside Jesus, carrying crosses placed on their shoulders by the empires of every age. It is no surprise that among the suffering poor in Latin America, and elsewhere, the image of the suffering Christ – Jesus Nazareno – is the object of greatest devotion, alongside that of Mary who stood in solidarity by the cross. They model to us what we mean by solidarity.
Christians began to see Christ as King, crowned with gold rather than thorns, when the church stopped being in solidarity with the suffering poor. The post-Constantine church spiritualized poverty as a virtue for the pious, something religious people opted for to be unencumbered by worldly cares, not as a terrible social condition to be overcome. Alternatively, then as now, the truly poor provided an opportunity for the affluent to show mercy, and therefore enjoy feeling virtuous. But in the social political reality of first century Palestine – or twenty-first century-Palestine – to be Christ-like was and is to be in solidarity, to share the burden of the poor, and to seek justice. To choose poverty as an act of love of neighbor is to share the burden of the poor. Not to idealize it, but to struggle to overcome it. Any social, religious or political system that implements policies that result in increased levels of poverty, and/or conditions of oppression, endangerment and injustice, is to be struggled against by those who seek to be in Christ-like solidarity with suffering humanity. This is not political rhetoric. This is Christian theology and spirituality.
Solidarity is the richest expression of love. It means to be in a committed relationship of mutuality, collaboration and respect across economic, national and social boundaries. It means crossing borders, together, perhaps even exchanging identity cards. It is not the good charity shown by kindhearted people towards the victims of the national disasters around the world, however generous and necessary. To quote an e-resource from Maryknoll of North Texas “… a transnational company, (or) most of the upper and middle classes can give alms, but they can never make solidarity, unless they can be converted to be unfaithful to themselves.” Walmart might have been the first to get trucks with supplies to New Orleans. That does not mean Walmart is in solidarity with the people of the Gulf.
Most of us can aspire to be in growing degrees of solidarity with the struggling poor. As North Americans, we carry an enormous burden of riches and privilege, yet few of us feel called to disrobe in the public square and walk away from it all, like Francis. But, we can use our privilege and resources to counter balance the powerlessness of the poor and to be the voice of the voiceless. That’s what we are here to do this weekend.
The people of the world do not elect our government. Nonetheless, they live with the consequences of our choices. Given the gravity of those consequences, for Americans not to vote is a sin against the world, a breach of sacred solidarity. On this election year, this is a particularly serious moral imperative. The people of Iraq or Iran; Colombia, Mexico or Cuba cannot elect the Congress that will determine much of what will happen to their economies; they do not vote for the Senate who can authorize armies to make war in their homelands. Christian solidarity demands of us, not only that we cast ballots on their behalf, but that we energetically work to elect a Congress that will put righteousness over partisanship. We must do so on behalf of the earth and all God’s children. For Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East; for song birds, manatees and polar bears, we must do so to be in holy solidarity.
“A theology of solidarity is not an abstraction. Rather, it embodies the reality of a particular community in a particular time, particular place, and particular struggle.” Churches must be built upon a theology of solidarity, must be organized around the vision of the Reign of God, a commonwealth of love and justice in which no one is left out. No one. From the front pew to the ends of the earth. Solidarity goes beyond intercessory prayers at Sunday worship. However, prayer is a critical component of lives lived in solidarity. We need the prayers of those who suffer injustice, that we may have the courage to confront our own complicity in their suffering. In turn we must pray that God grants us the strength to challenge our increasingly idolatrous society. Solidarity is not the easiest, perhaps not the most comfortable way of being in the world. It is just the way of Jesus who embodied the solidarity of God.