“Why am I twenty years old and I have never learned of this before?” Diana asked, overcome with emotion. My husband, a professor of religious studies, had just finished giving an overview of Latin American liberation theology and God’s preferential option for the poor to a group of students at my weekly religious life program. He concluded his overview by reading these words by Gustavo Gutierrez:
So what then do we mean by ‘poor’? I do not think there is any good definition, but we come close to it by saying that the poor are non-persons, the in-significant, those who do not count in society and all too often in Christian churches as well. A poor person, for example, is someone who has to wait a week at the door of the hospital to see a doctor. A poor person is someone without social or economic weight, who is robbed by unjust laws; someone who has no way of speaking up or acting to change the situation. Someone who belongs to a despised race and feels culturally marginalized is in-significant. In sum, the poor are found in the statistics, but they do not appear there with their own names. We do not know the names of the poor; they are anonymous and remain so. They are insignificant in society but not before God.”
There were a number of Latina students at our program that night. Diana was not the only one in tears over these words and the idea that God not only has compassion for the poor, but offers them special preference. My students were blown away by this, by Gutierrez, and by this Latin American liberation theology that deeply resonated with them.
In Ephesian 1:18 the author prays that we know the riches of our inheritance among the saints. In the New Testament, the word “saints” is used as a title for all Christians. Saints are not just those who have passed away and they are not just the revered few who have achieved uncommonly holy feats. Instead, Christians young and old, living and departed, and even those who are still yet to be born are all a part of what Christians refer to as the “communion of saints.” Some churches make this saintly distinction clear in their opening call and response. The preacher begins worship by saying, “Praise the Lord, saints!” And the congregation would respond, “Hallelujah, praise the Lord!”
Many Christians find it incredibly comforting to hear that our departed loved ones are a part of this inherited community, that they are not lost to us but remain a part of an everlasting communion. But it’s also important for Christians to know that our inheritance is much deeper and broader than those we know and love. For instance, our inheritance also includes saints like Martin Luther King, Jr., Ella Baker, Thomas Merton, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and Gustavo Gutierrez, whose lives and work are a source of constant encouragement. Our Christian inheritance includes saints who are theologians, people who have the gift of thinking deeply about God and God’s Word, theologians who when we read and study them encourage us to think more deeply about God and God’s word.
I don’t know why Diana and the others hadn’t heard of Gutierrez before. Certainly they should have. Because he is a part of their Christian inheritance—and ours.
The author of Ephesians prays that we know the riches of our inheritance. He prays that we know the Christians, theologians, seekers, scholars, mystics, and loved ones who are among our saints. We all need encouragement and companionship. We all need saints in our life who will challenge us to dig deeper and go further in our faith. As Christians, our hope resides in the understanding that this life of faith is not a solo endeavor. We’re in this together—along with an incredibly great cloud of witnesses, a great communion of saints who are here to encourage, sustain, and challenge us along the way.