"When the Church hears the cry of the oppressed, it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises."
- Archbishop Oscar Romero (Aug. 1978)
Robin Hood has been a timeless tale for hundreds of years, appearing most recently in a gritty version directed by Ridley Scott with Russell Crowe in the titular role. The timelessness of the tale stems from its one simple principle: steal from the rich and give to the poor.
This policy of economic redistribution was radical in the Middle Ages and is still dangerous in our own day. Robin Hood reminds us each century (and now each decade through film) that the poor and oppressed should have the same rights and privledges as those who have money and power. This swashbuckling tale brings to life for its listeners and viewers the teachings of Jesus including: "Blessed are you who are poor... who are now hungry.... who are weeping... but woe to you who are rich... who are filled now... who laugh now." (Lk. 6:20-25).
In Ridley Scott's version, Robin Longstride (Crowe) begins his rebellious streak by speaking truth to power - telling the English king, Richard the Lionhearted, to his face that the crusades are foolish endeavors which God would not condone, even though the war is being fought in his name. This gospel-inspired declaration compels the king to punish Robin for his stance; but akin to the Acts of the Apostles, Robin and his men escape from their shackles and leave the crusades.
But this is only the beginning of Robin's journey. Despite their disagreement, Robin honors the king after Richard's death by taking his crown back to England - and making his way to Nottingham to return the sword of a fallen knight to that soldier's family.
What Robin sees in England, however, is oppression of the poor, an excess of taxation from the crown, and the corruption of the rich and powerful - so he begins to act, not just for himself but on behalf of those who are beaten down by medieval life.
These actions call to mind others who have stood for the poor and oppressed against injustice and tyranny over the centuries. One individual who comes to mind is Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero. Made the archbishop of San Salvador in 1977, Romero unexpectedly advocated a new paradigm - to take power away from the corrupt government of El Salvador and give it back to the people. He spoke out for human rights, an end to violence, and excessive poverty that had crippled the country.
"When the Church hears the cry of the oppressed," declared Romero in August 1978, "it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises." Like Robin Hood, he encouraged and gave hope to the poor - to stand up for their rights, despite persecution and even death.
Also like Robin, Oscar Romero was made an outlaw for his gospel beliefs - ignored by the United States, who stood idly by while people died; shunned by some leaders within his own Catholic Church, who did not want to upset the social order; and targeted by the government of El Salvador - who eventually assassinated him in March 1980.
Living the gospel is never easy - it will require taking up the cross and suffering for what is right. It might mean persecution from power and even opposition from those closest to us. Like Robin Hood, it might even make us an outlaw. But to stand for justice and speak out against corruption, oppression, and violence - and possibly suffer for those beliefs - is to walk in the company of people like Archbishop Romero, as well as Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, the Apostles and Martyrs, and of course, Jesus of Nazareth. But remember, that's not bad company to keep.