Shady Solidarity: A God Who Lifts Up the Poor

Today’s reflection is by Bondings 2.0 contributor Allison Connelly, whose bio is available here.

Today’s liturgical readings for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time can be found here.

As I read today’s liturgical scriptures, I was struck (again) by God’s radical commitment to solidarity with the poor. From Amos’ damning cries against those who were “trampl[ing] the needy” and “destroy[ing] the poor” to our psalmist praising God for lifting up the poor from the sewer to seat them with princes, and even to the Gospel acclamation that sings of Jesus who “was rich [but] became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich,” it is clear over and over again that God takes sides. And God takes the side of the poor.

As an LGBTQ person, I know that this means God is radically in solidarity with the disproportionately-poor LGBTQ community. According to the Williams Law Institute at UCLA, “LGBT people collectively have a poverty rate of 21.6%, which is much higher than the rate for cisgender straight people of 15.7%.” Breaking the data down further, among LGBT people, transgender people and bisexual women have especially high rates of poverty at 29%. If God is in solidarity with the poor, God is in solidarity with us, LGBTQ people, and especially in solidarity with transgender people and bisexual women.

As I hold in mind the reminder of God’s radical solidarity, the Gospel, which was confusing to me at first pass, makes more sense. Jesus tells his disciples a story about a steward who, when he learned he would be fired from his position, got a little shady. In this sense, I’m using “shady” according to Merriam-Webster’s third (and most Millennials’ first) definition: “of questionable merit.” In the hopes of self-preservation, the steward decides to do what he can to get into the good graces of the debtors who owe his master. He invites the debtors to re-write their own debts: now, instead of owing the steward’s master one hundred measures of olive oil, a debtor re-writes his debt to owe only fifty. Another debtor now owes eighty kors of wheat instead of one hundred. And so on.

The phrase that comes to mind for me when I read this story is “shady solidarity.” This guy—about to lose his job—realizes that in order to be in right relationship with his community, in order to expect hospitality from those around him, in order to be in solidarity with them, he needs to give something in return. Solidarity is always mutual. He offers what he has: his access to money. He knows that the power he has can make a real difference in the lives of the people in his community—maybe, hopefully, a big enough difference to put himself back in right relationship with them. What he did was definitely shady. And yet, Jesus calls his actions “trustworthy.” Why?

Let’s think about it. If the steward’s master, a rich man, is anything like the rich in the time of Amos, he came by his wealth dishonestly. Maybe, as Amos writes, he “fixed his scales for cheating” or bought “the lowly for silver” or “the poor for a pair of sandals.” What the steward did was definitely against the law: altering financial documents to scam his boss out of money. But, depending on how you look at it, the bigger fault was in his master accumulating dishonest wealth in the first place. St. Thomas Aquinas would remind us, “Any law that uplifts human personality is just; any law that degrades human personality is unjust” and St. Augustine would tell us that “an unjust law is no law at all.” Who degraded the human personality? Surely the rich man, who hoarded his wealth and did not share with the poor. Who uplifted the human personality? Surely the steward, who acted in solidarity with the poor in his community. If an unjust law was keeping the poor indebted and disenfranchised while making a rich man richer, the only moral response is to break the unjust law. Refusing to abide by unjust laws, the steward proves he can be trusted: by acting in shady solidarity.

Our scripture concludes with this oft-quoted verse: “No servant can serve two masters…You cannot serve both God and mammon.” “Mammon” is translated by the Oxford English Dictionary as “wealth regarded as an evil influence or false object of worship and devotion.” We see in this story a servant who makes a choice: should he be faithful to the wealth worshipped by his master at the expense of the poor or be in solidarity with the poor and debtors in his community. His choice for solidarity with the poor— shady as it was —is God’s choice, too: God’s choice to be in solidarity with all who are poor, including the disproportionately poor LGBTQ community. May true solidarity, which takes risks and refuses injustice, be ever our choice, too.

Allison Connelly-Vetter (she/her), September 18, 2022

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