Given the fact that much of the world lives in crippling poverty and given the fact that we are to associate the least of these with Jesus, how can there be a justified expression of partialism? How can I favor those that are close to me who are not the least of these over those who are far from me who are certainly the least of these?
Typical philosophical answers to this question seem to points towards to value of the happiness or the survival or the identity of the self. This, however, seems to be in stark contrast with Jesus’ prescriptions to annihilate the self found in the 10th chapter of Matthew,
“38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
What do Jesus’ statements mean with regard to having partiality towards those that are close to us for the sake of ourselves?
If we place Jesus’ statements in a historical context, we see that Jesus’ death took place because of his passionate inveighance against the injustice of, what Borg calls, the “pre-industrial agricultural domination system.” Moreover, Jesus’ denouncing of the deification of wealth, honor, and family played an essential role in his crucifixion.
What did these statements mean to the original hearers? Were they to understand it as a call to subvert and denounce the conventional deification of that-which-is-not-Deity and accept death as an inevitable consequence of such subversion? This seems to be precisely what happened to many of the disciples, and early followers of Christ.
They, however, seem to inveigh against a different sort of apotheosis: that of the Roman emperor. Interestingly, they do not seem to point a prophetic finger at the injustice of the Jewish-Roman collaboration. Instead, they seem to die because they refuse to return the title of “Son of God” to Caesar, which is where the title had originally been stolen from in the first place.
Is this what Jesus meant by losing our lives for his sake? Was he anticipating the “identity war” that would ensue after his death, i.e., was his telling his disciples how they should respond to the re-usurpation of the title “Son of God” from Jesus?
OR perhaps the title battle become symbolic of the recognition of the injustice of the Roman collaboration. Indeed, there are accusations levied against Rome’s justice in the book of Revelation. OR not. A search through Revelation reveals that there doesn’t seem to be any significant passages that pertain to caring for/about the “poor” or “justice or widow or naked.”
Maybe it really is the case that I can’t get away from the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Maybe Jesus’ call to follow him really is a call to the person of Jesus himself, and not necessarily to some abstract cause of love and/or justice. That’s a tough pill to swallow, and even if that is how his words are to be understood, is that something I’m prepared to do?
I really dig the abstract causes of love and justice. If I’m such a fan of these, however, why am I trying to justify partiality, which, in my case, seems to inherently reduce the amount of justice in the world. And…this brings us back full circle. This is a mess.