Those days in Philosophy class at Ibadan, around 2009, I
remember how my lecturer of “Socio-Political Philosophy” made efforts in
explaining the Principle of Justice from the perspective of John Rawls and
Robert Nozick. I became interested in the topic to the point that I was
nicknamed “Nozick” by my contemporaries. Today, I find their views relatively
useful with the readings of today.
John Rawls, am American Political philosopher was noted for his
great impact in Political Philosophy especially when it pertains to justice and
equality. He came up with “Justice as fairness”. He averred that economic inequalities should only be permitted
if they are to the benefit of society, and especially if they are to the
benefit of its least advantaged members; this has come to be known as “the difference principle”. However, Robert
Nozick’s ideas on “The
State” and “Utopia”
the theories of John Rawls. Specifically, Nozick takes issue with Rawls’
conception of distributive justice as it pertains to economic inequalities. Nozick
believed that no one had any business “permitting” economic inequalities at
all. To Nozick, as long as economic inequalities arise from voluntary exchange,
they cannot be unjust. Put differently, a man should not be compelled to
distribute his “justly acquired wealth” to the poor; he only does so
voluntarily through charity. A reconciling factor of both views (Rawls &
Nozick) gives way for assisting the poor either by act of “charity” or by a “necessary
inequality”. This is not farfetched from the demands of the gospel; and with
this we talk about “The Preferential Option for the Poor” which is the hallmark
of today’s reading.
We (Christians) uphold the universal love of God and the
equal human dignity of all human persons. In order to consistently, coherently,
and credibly affirm the universal human dignity – we must go to where that
dignity is violated, marginalized, and overlooked – that is where we pitch our
tent. God loves all equally; therefore God cannot be neutral in the face of
oppression, marginalization, poverty, and assaults on human dignity. This is
clear throughout Biblical exhortations that the widow, orphan and resident
alien will cry out to God and God will hear their cries. Neutrality is not
equality; neutrality is siding with the existing power structure – including
its distribution of resources and poverty. The universal love of God means that
God takes sides.  A preference that then should be made by Christians as
well. The preferential option is a
fundamental principle in Catholic Social Teaching, but it is also easily
misunderstood. As a part of Catholic Social Teaching, the preferential option
presents an ethical and political demand.  “Preferential” indicates that “the needs of
the poor and vulnerable come first”. “Option” does not mean “optional,” but
rather the choice (to “opt”) to do  what is morally required; “poor”
signifies those vulnerable and marginalized peoples whose human dignity is
trampled upon and whose basic needs are not met. As ethical and political, the
preferential option for the poor relates to everything from an individual
Christian’s commitment to works of mercy to alleviate the suffering of the poor
to the pursuit of a more equitable health care system for the poor and
vulnerable. The preferential option also has to do with how we come to know truth. This is
clearly related to ethical stance above. Above all, Christ has made this
preference for the poor a yardstick for judgment on the last day: “when I was
hungry you gave me to eat, when I was thirsty, you gave me to drink…” (Matthew
central theme of today’s readings is that, in a world of broken hearts, “seeming
disappearance” of hope for the future, injustice, God still cares for the poor,
thus giving his healing touch. This expresses the principle of Fundamental
Option for the Poor. Today’s Scripture readings challenge us to become channels
of God’s compassionate, healing love and to place our hope in Jesus who gives
us resurrection and eternal life. The first reading, taken from I Kings 17,
shows us how our merciful God, the God who liberates the poor from distress,
used His prophet Elijah to resuscitate the only the son of the poor widow of
Zarephath who had given the prophet accommodation in her house during a famine.
In the second reading, taken from the letter to the Galatians, St. Paul
declares that the Good News of God’s love, mercy and salvation which he
preaches has been directly revealed to him by God, Who had chosen him for
ministry from his mother’s womb. Today’s Gospel story reveals to us the
compassionate heart of God in Jesus.  Meeting a funeral procession coming
out of the village of Nain, Jesus was visibly moved at the sight of the poor widow,
weeping as she went along with the people to bury her only son. Perhaps he
could foresee his own mother in the same position at the foot of his cross. In
addition, Jesus knew that the widows were one of the most destitute, dependent,
and vulnerable classes of society, totally dependent for support on the mercy
of others. So Jesus stopped the funeral procession, touched the bier, consoled
the mother and surprised everyone by resuscitating the boy, thus extending
God’s love and compassion to the bereaved mother.
We don’t
see Jesus in the Gospel episode as a remote Divine Being, but as somebody close
to us, sharing our loss and sorrow. This same for God the Father, having seen
the misery and pain that befell the widow of Zarephath by the death of her only
son, used prophet Elijah to rescue the situation.
message of today is obvious: We need to be sensitive and attentive to the needs
of our suffering brothers and sisters in the society; cooperating with the
principle of “preferential option”; becoming channels of God’s compassionate
and healing love as Jesus was. Our deeds of love will transform the broken-hearted,
and this is the demand of the Gospel. We must ask God for the grace to be like
Christ for the others in our daily lives. Those who saw St. Francis of Assisi,
for instance, were also seeing Jesus in him. This was the same for Blessed
Theresa of Calcutta, noted for her charitable works towards the poor and the
dying. Saints are those who carry Jesus in their words and deeds, imitating his
way of doing things and his goodness. Our society needs saints, and we can each
be one in our own environment. Those who hurt also need comfort, and again, it
is our responsibility to offer that comfort. As our Lord comforted this woman,
let us comfort others (Galatians 6:2, Romans 12:15). It is only when we do this,
that the poor would praise God: “I will praise you Lord, for you have rescued
me”, as clearly pointed out in the Responsorial Psalm.
May the
good Lord grant us the grace to be more sensitive and attentive to the needs of
our brothers and sisters in the society. Amen.


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Chinaka Justin Mbaeri

A staunch Roman Catholic and an Apologist of the Christian faith. More about him here.

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