The principles of the common good and solidarity have to do with the interconnectedness of human beings. Both principles are rooted in the understanding that God is the father of all human beings, regardless of race, creed, nationality, or heritage, and as a result the condition of one or more members of the human family effects all members.
We see the beginnings of these principles in the people of Israel. The law of Moses made it clear that due to their common fatherhood in Israel, the people of God had a responsibility to care for one another, especially those who are least fortunate:
For the Lord, your God, is the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the resident alien, giving them food and clothing. So you too should love the resident alien, for that is what you were in the land of Egypt. – Deuteronomy 10:17-19
While God loves his own people whom he redeemed from Egypt, in Deuteronomy we likewise see God’s love of the orphan, the widow, and the resident alien. As part of God’s covenant relationship with his people, He makes it clear that is the responsibility of all members of His family to care for the oppressed. We see a concrete example of this in Leviticus 25. Every forty nine years, the people are to observe a sabbath year. On the following year they observe a Jubilee year in which the community celebrates God’s sovereignty and justice by loosing the bonds of those who are oppressed:
You shall count seven weeks of years—seven times seven years—such that the seven weeks of years amount to forty-nine years. Then, on the tenth day of the seventh month let the ram’s horn resound; on this, the Day of Atonement, the ram’s horn blast shall resound throughout your land. You shall treat this fiftieth year as sacred. You shall proclaim liberty in the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to your own property, each of you to your own family. This fiftieth year is your year of jubilee; you shall not sow, nor shall you reap the aftergrowth or pick the untrimmed vines, since this is the jubilee. It shall be sacred for you. You may only eat what the field yields of itself. In this year of jubilee, then, each of you shall return to your own property. – Leviticus 25:8-13
In addition, we see that it is the special responsibility of the leaders of the community to ensure that solidarity and the common good are brought about. Psalm 27, a so-called “psalm of Solomon,” highlights the king’s role in safeguarding the common good:
O God, give your judgment to the king;
your justice to the king’s son;
That he may govern your people with justice,
your oppressed with right judgment,
That the mountains may yield their bounty for the people,
and the hills great abundance,
That he may defend the oppressed among the people,
save the children of the poor and crush the oppressor. – Psalm 27:1-4
The basis of solidarity and the common good established in the Old Testament are strengthened in the New Testament with the incarnation of Christ, who came to bring about through his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection. Once again, the New Testament points toward fatherhood that all human beings share in God: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God” (1 John 3:1) The New Testament scriptures base the principle of solidarity on this fact – that by virtue of our common humanity, we are all brothers and sisters, and thus bear a responsibility for each others’ well being.
This is expressed concretely in the ministry of Christ firstly in the Beatitudes. Jesus reminds us that those who are merciful will be themselves shown mercy. As a result, those who cultivate the virtue of charity in their hearts and express it by providing for the needs of others will help to bring about the common good. Of course, the common good presumes the presence of peace, so Christ calls on all people to be peacemakers as part of their common humanity. A constitutive element of peace is that people have their necessary tangible and human needs, so solidarity calls all people to work to provide for these needs (see Matthew 5:3-12).
What are some of these needs? The most obvious are the economic needs of people. The letter of James highlights the responsibility of the rich to provide for those who are poor: “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:15-17).
However Christ does not presume that these are the only needs that people have; he also calls on us to provide for other human needs. One of these needs is the presence of proper relationships among persons and groups. Solidarity requires a righting of dysfunctional and broken relationships, as reflected by Jesus’ sermon on the mount in the fifth chapter of Matthew: “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). The righting of relationships allows the dignity of the other to come forth. I am much better able to stand in solidarity with others when I am able to recognize how my life is inextricably bound up with theirs. As a result of being in proper relationship with others, Jesus teaches that we are able to be in proper relationship with God:
Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments. – Matthew 22:36-40
Saint Paul echoes this commandment to love one another, especially in his letter to the Romans. He does so in a more concrete way, as the community of Christians in Rome is seeking guidance on how to live among each other:
Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, [namely] “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law. – Romans 13:8-10
Thus, living rightly means loving one another to the point where you are willing to bear someone’s sufferings with them. This recognition of interdependence is at the heart of the Gospel. St. Paul exhorts the Corinthians in this way: “If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
While the New Testament scriptures never guarantee that solidarity and the common good are easy, they do support the fact that committing oneself to these principles allows for Christ’s peace to reign and the kingdom of God to be built up:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. – Colossians 3:12-15
Finally, the ultimate example of solidarity is that of the martyr. To love someone is to desire what is good for them, and sometimes this can mean dying in order to advance the good of the other. Those who are willing to die for the sake of others as a result of their faith witness to the power of Christ’s resurrection. This witness is borne out of an intense love for God and fellow man, as John notes in his first letter. “The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers [and sisters]” (1 John 3:16).
Tomorrow we will