We protect ourselves, best, when we work together to help the poor
Recently, Fr Jun Mercado OMI in the Philippines sent an inspiring message calling for us, as Christians, to be in solidarity with the poor. I see a global and local connection at this time.
Globally, we have a major challenge: climate change affects everyone, but especially the poorer people. Locally, we have two issues: cancer and corruption.
Jesus was very much concerned with the situation of the poor. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says: “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already!”
Fire, in this context, means a way of cleansing and destroying rubbish/ evil/ suffering.
Too often when we read the Bible we divorce it from the reality of world events and concentrate on simple moral behaviour. But, this week’s readings reflect almost perfectly the struggle for climate change to become a reality. Of course I could be accused of isogesis!
In the First reading, the Elders (the comfortable well off people), don’t want to listen to the prophet Jeremiah, even though “the enemy is at the gate” – that is the Babylonian army.
It reminded me of the USA invasion of Iraq 20 years ago when the Iraqi Gov’t spokesperson was still broadcasting that “all will be well” even as the US troops were entering Baghdad.
The King of Jerusalem had power, but chose not to exercise it in the face of all the Elders. They tried to kill Jeremiah. Are not our super-power leaders doing the same today? They talk a lot but do very little, while the business leaders try to “silence” the activists.
Later in the Gospel, Jesus says: “There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is my distress till it is over!” This baptism is about the Cross. Where he is tortured and killed because he wanted to help the poor people suffering from the actions of the rich/ powerful.
Jesus is distressed because he knows the opposition He will face when he stands up for the poor. “Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” When Jesus says this, it’s about the struggle to bring justice for the poor.
Even now, in our families, there is often division over climate change. Many older people don’t believe it. Are they afraid they’ll lose their comforts/ certainties? While the younger people are, rightly, afraid for their future well-being if there is no change.
St Paul rightly encourages us: “With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us, we too, then, should throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily, and keep running steadily in the race we have started.”
Many people are watching the Christians and hoping we will stand up for justice. But too many of us are weighed down by the “sin” of selfishness and “I’m OK just now.”
I don’t say forget about our personal moral failings, but let’s focus on the big issues in society where poorer people suffer because of the corporate actions of our country and world.
Do we ever stand up to argue with our politicians about the coal-fired power station near Lamu that recently received approval? It sounds like we will even be importing dirty coal from China.
Locally, I’m concerned about the many poor people suffering from cancer. Recently, the President was moved to talk about fighting cancer after three prominent people died of cancer.
For no cost, the Government can reduce air pollution for the poor: all around Nairobi and the big cities, people breathe in high concentrations of exhaust fumes. Why? Because most buses and trucks discharge their exhaust fumes at the level of our knees. When sitting in a matatu, exhaust fumes come straight inside and choke us. We can’t close the windows due to the heat.
As we walk along the street (eg. Tom Mboya, or the GPO), a huge line of buses pump out undiluted exhaust fumes at knee level as the crush of people walk past. If not a complete solution, a simple change that would dilute the exhaust fumes before we inhale them is: all buses/ trucks must discharge their exhaust directly above the cabin or body of the vehicle.
Going up, the wind will disperse a large portion of the fumes, while the remainder will be much diluted by the time people breathe it in. The rich people have air-conditioned cars. The rich people have money to pay for medical treatment. But the poor have no one to pay for them.
Fr Jun Mercado said: Solidarity is best described by an Australian aboriginal woman asked about assistance to the poor: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come, because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
That’s my prayer for today: we protect ourselves, best, when we work together to help the poor.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI