Charity is good…but asking WHY is also important!


Charity is good…but asking WHY is also important!

Despite being a patriarchal society, the 1st Reading reveals the prominence of women who teach everyone, likely more than the men in the Bible! The Shunamite woman’s status also teaches us that those in positions of influence, leadership or power, have a greater duty to act than others in society – although everyone has a duty to charity and justice.

God is calling us to go beyond simple charity and work for a just society. The role of a prophet is to challenge injustice and promote fidelity to the Covenant God has made with us.  I’m sorry to remind you all, but every baptised Christian is partly a prophet!

One such person is a wonderful, undeclared saint, from South America who once said: “when I feed the poor, people call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist!” (Dom Hélder Câmara):

At first glance, the miracle of a son in the 1st Reading is just a nice thing to do as a repayment: after all, we are told the woman was wealthy (of rank). However, it is much more than that.  In the ancient world, a barren woman was treated with scorn and seemed to be cursed. Additionally, a widow without children can be left in serious difficulty. Which is probably why God (in the Bible), usually includes widows with orphans, when talking about charity.

This miracle also restores the dignity of the woman: money cannot stop people gossiping about us if there is something different about us. Elisha’s frequent travel teaches us about faith.  As the woman’s faith increased, so did her concern for, and generosity to, Elisha.  She went beyond the necessary charity of food and provided a place of sanctuary.

The 2nd Reading and Gospel extend our understanding of the Shunamite woman’s actions: to try and identify and respond to those structures in society that create suffering and poverty.

Fr. Ron Rolheiser OMI (19-6-17), relates a story that is challenging: a town built alongside a river, near a bend that blocked a view up the river. One day some children were playing by the river when they saw five bodies in the water. They quickly ran for help and the townspeople buried the two deceased, while the three living were cared for: the child put in a foster home; the sick woman put in hospital and the young man given a job. The next week more bodies appeared and, again, the local people took care of the dead and the living. This went on for years. But… and this is the point, nobody ever went up the river to see from where, and for what reasons those bodies kept appearing each month.

Although simplistic, the story teaches us the importance of also asking “why,” instead of just being “kind.” The BLM (black lives matter) protests have at last caused a lot of people to think about historical injustice and present day realities. You can read a good article here:

Having said that, it’s a step backwards to destroy statues of notable people who were involved in the slave trade, etc. Once they are gone, future citizens will forget past injustices. Societies, and people, change thinking slowly: we need to study history so we don’t repeat it!

Now, in our own society in Kenya, can we challenge corruption which causes poverty?
Can we challenge abuse of power which kills innocent people?
In Australia/Canada, can we see structural causes for poverty?

In my reflections on Australia, I see a problem when handouts from the Government are separated from the community. In the “good old days” the community gave from their own pocket, organised appeals and other events to help people in trouble. Because recipients could see people sacrificing to help them, they were motivated to give back to society in various ways.

It could be more effective and helpful if Governments channelled assistance for those in need through local community groups where people know each other. Charity, without the personal touch, does not address the deeper need to build community involving all people: hence, division/resentment & entitlement increase: so crime, burglary and drug abuse have increased.

Now, a lesson and instruction for priests and church leaders: the 1st reading reminds us to not just take from the faithful people, but to be ready to give back to people more than just a simple word of thanks. In Kenya it’s sad to hear of priests demanding money to visit poor families where a dying person and needs anointing; and money for big cars.

Finally, to all of us: be generous and don’t worry if you don’t see any reward from people we help – God always sees and always blesses us… but maybe tomorrow and not today!

Sometimes we don’t recognise the rewards of our generosity, because we forget that the Body of Christ is all the people of God from A_to_Z. When we help ‘person T’, we might be blessed by ‘person D’ (perhaps at a future date), or maybe we’ve previously been helped by ‘person H’!

By Gerard Conlan, OMI