Is the Church’ ‘preferential option for the poor’ optional?

The issues of discrimination and marginalization are dominant themes of the scriptures, written across the old and new testaments, from the story of exodus to the persecution of the early Christians and the paving away of the universal Church. The elaborate narrative of the story of the Samaritan woman in the gospel of John (4: 5-42) aptly presented Jesus as the ‘Living Water’ that quenches the thirst of all the seekers. Yet, the re-reading of the story by Sr. Miriam R. Alejandrino, OSB allowed the reader to understand further how the Jesus penetrated the thick wall of gender and racial discrimination in his time.

The woman is discriminated already for being what she is. Jewish men thank God in their daily prayer for not being born a woman. More so, when this unnamed woman from Samaria failed to live up the Mosaic Law (Ex 20: 14 / Deut 5: 18). She is not only discriminated as a woman but also as a Samaritan. Her daily recourse is to fetch water from the well at noon to avoid people with scathing and discriminatory look at her.

The encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman gave us a glimpse on how God dialogued with his people, particularly the marginalized ones. In front of Jesus, the Samaritan woman is just like any other human person with full potentialities and dignity to be of service. Jesus recognized the woman’s value first as a person, without gender and race. He gave her the respect that we all deserved without prejudice to her deeds or misdeeds. And as a person, this woman is just like any other child of God, ‘little less than a god’ (Ps 8). Jesus did not condemn her nor impose his religion on her. Seeing her as she truly is, a human being, a person, and a child of God, Jesus gave her a new lease of life, a life faithfully receptive to the gratuitous gift of God’s salvation.

The evangelist John ended the story with a woman being transformed into a missionary, an instrument of God’s work as a result of the encounter. Fr. Raymond Brown even viewed it as another Johanine ploy presenting that this representative of ‘impure’ Jews (and a woman at that) is more receptive to the good news that Jesus proclaims in contrast to the earlier audience represented by Nicodemus, the Pharisee or the ‘separated one’.

Gender and racial discrimination prevailed in our present society that prided itself with the most advanced technology and civilization. While there seems to be a growing awareness of woman empowerment, there remain records of discrimination of women scattered around the world, in all strata of social life. On the same vein, racial discrimination still abounds in many countries specifically to the cultural minorities. The technocratic paradigm that Pope Francis (Laudato Si) identified, as one of the culprits in the destruction of our common home, focuses on the value of things, money, power, etc. than persons. It is not surprising then that marginalization thrives among the Indigenous Peoples, where women and children are most vulnerable, because they are not seen according to who they are. Their communities is not important in comparison to the wealth that can be raked from their areas, either the extraction of the minerals underneath or the logs above. Nevermind that such extractions have definitive social costs, very few people are benefited only.

Just as Jesus challenges the personal biases of his people on women and on other races in his time, so too we are challenged today also to truthfully look at each person as human being, with dignity and rights.  Insatiable hunger for power and wealth blurs our perspective to see rightly the gift of persons in our midst. And when we seek only profits instead of truly helping people, we are caught in a vicious cycle of emptiness. The woman in the narrative left her jar when she found the wellspring of life. She found Jesus because Jesus allowed her to see herself in the right perspective. We fail to see other people’s worth due to our failure too to see our real worth in the eyes of God.

The perspective of Jesus for each person gives us a Christian paradigm that also seeks and restores the marginalized and the discriminated. Real Christian perspective urges us not only to show respect but also defend people who are personally and structurally marginalized and discriminated. The Church’ preferential option for the poor is not optional but an endless test of our fidelity to the mission of Christ. As Rural Missionaries, we continue to uphold and defend the human dignity and rights of those people who are constantly pushed into the margins due to worldly interests.


Rev. Fr. Raymond Montero-Ambray


Diocese of Tandag


[This piece was delivered by Rev. Father Ambray during the Biblico-Theologico Reflection series in Cagayan de Oro City in November 2016. The Reflection forms part of the activities of the ‘Healing the Hurt’ Project implemented by RMP-NMR and partners, and supported by the European Union]