When one person coughs, we all cough…but prosperity increases when we help the poor
As often happens – the pandemic lockdowns around the world have brought out the best and/ or the worst in each of us. I hear so many good stories about increased actions of care for neighbours in the same street where we live (previously we were too busy to say hi); and dads spending more time playing with their kids in the local parks, etc.
At the same time, I’ve heard distressing stories about increases in domestic violence and people losing their businesses or homes due to the accompanying financial crisis.
So today’s readings are very timely and instructive: often, the Gospel passage encourages the idea that we love our neighbour “in general”, and we promptly get caught up in the worries of life and only “love” others when a situation hits us in the face.
However, the First Reading gives a bit of focus and a commanding tone of “voice”: do not harm the orphans or the widows.
Too often we might be fixated on the title: orphan or widow. However, these two categories indicate something deeper, and a gentle command to be pro-active:
Orphan usually represents children: with no security, property and no rights. They are very vulnerable to abuse, being misused and going without shelter and food.
Widows (usually older women), represent women (and men) who are vulnerable, with no one to protect, or provide, for them: women usually had no property rights or finances.
Today we can interpret these categories to mean: orphans/ street boys and children from poor families (especially single parent, homeless or abusive families); then widows as refugees, migrants and street people (homeless).
Of course, it’s true that some people in these desperate situations are there because of their own stupidity. However, how do we know that for certain when we meet a person in need?
The invitation from God, today, is to love: sometimes that means helping with food, other times with money, and other times with physical help. On top of all that, however, is a way of loving that costs nothing but a little time: to stop and say hello: to ask where they come from. When we stop and enquire a person’s name, it gives dignity and life to that person.
Although the 1st Reading has a passive voice of “do not harm”, the Gospel is a command to be active. Now, this can seem unfair, especially to busy and stressed parents and workers. However, never forget that God always (always!) rewards a generous giver.
During the week I received a beautiful video about a little boy who packs a picnic lunch with two lots of food and drink. He runs out the front door telling mum “I’m going to look for God.” After reaching a large park – like Uhuru Park – he sits on a park bench and feels hungry. He pulls out a sandwich and starts to eat; he then realises the old lady on the seat is dressed in poor clothes and looks hungry too. So he hands over one sandwich and they eat together, talking and laughing. Then he pulls out two drinks and hands one to the lady. After a while he gets up to go home, but decides to give the lady a hug. Then, he runs off happy to catch the bus. After reaching home, his mum asked: “did you find God?” “Oh, yes, “ he replied, “she’s a bit older than I expected.” Likewise the old lady entered a low cost café and met a friend. She says with a big smile: “I met God today. He was younger than I expected!”
This story is reflected in St Paul’s 2nd Reading, which challenges us to make our love practical. The flow-on effects of our love for others is a community where people appreciate us (safety), and feel motivated to do something useful: that means our communities will be more productive and peaceful, which leads to greater prosperity.
Finally, a comment about the “threats” in the first reading: “my anger will flare and I shall kill you with the sword…” Think of this as the sting of consequences for our actions:
1) not helping the poor leads to despair and violence: it may be you or your family killed;
2) children who neglect their parents in old age: a future of the same awaits them.
3) people who ignore the needs of a neighbour: live in fear of becoming poor/sick.
4) parents who beat their children: a lifetime of loneliness awaits.
5) people who abuse women and children: a future of prison and humiliation awaits.
6) priests/religious who seek to be powerful: a future of loneliness looms large.
I pray we can all see the positive value for ourselves, that loving our neighbour brings. The pandemic has revealed how connected we are to each other. When one is sick, we all start coughing. Can we be just a little bit intelligent and see that when “orphans” & “widows” suffer then, eventually, we will all suffer? May God bless our generosity to others this week.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI