”If I feed the poor they call me a saint; when I ask why they
are poor they call me a communist.”
- Archbishop Helder Camara

We often find that it is far easier to encourage people to donate for charitable causes than to work directly with people who are in need. Comic Relief's TV extravaganza has raised a record 58 million Pounds for charity on Friday 13th March 2009 - despite the worst economic meltdown in the United Kingdom and the world-wide recession. But the people who become really dependent upon charity are not helped at all in most situations. Manning a soup kitchen or shaking hands with AID victim is more difficult than giving few pounds to such a cause. It takes a courageous and insightful group of people to discern the difference between real need and the people who use charity as a crutch to get through an unfortunate life. In much the same vane charitable giving also has a publicity and propaganda angle; certain marketing strategies may call for ‘open-plate’ or list-based giving as practised in some churches. How much of a resource is to be given to those who need immediate help and how much is to be devoted to long-range causes of poverty and injustice? Should our compassion extend to deeper causes of the poverty?

Asking these questions and finding answers are always keeping in line with the continual call of Christ to each of us. Jesus, as liberator and rebel, confronts establishments that bring oppression to people. Some times charity is used to keep people in a dependent and subservient state. People who are being helped have no escape route; they become enslaved to the system. Managers and handlers including government agencies who supervise poor people’s establishments and orphanages become their masters and do not hear their cry and need for liberation. When do we take up injustice issues with longer-term effects? We are torn by the impulse either to give food directly or to cultivate a farm or build a house or provide treatment for a sick person or to change unjust systems that cause the hunger and other problems. Couldn't we be involved by helping the needy by both sets of actions, whether by handing out money directly or by challenging the system? And isn't it safer to do the former? Isn't it wise to take the safer option? If we satisfy the hungry, don't we receive praise, encourage others to join our ranks, and become better Christians? And if we penetrate into the causes of hunger don't they call us communists? It certainly not a question of either or. Let us continue the first-aid of direct giving as much as possible, while we raise people's consciousness to penetrate into the second level of humble service in challenging the system, which creates these deprivations.

Initially, we see the people in need and we respond to them immediately since our humanity demands it. A crying infant needs his milk immediately, not a week from now. The old adage about giving a fish and teaching someone to fish is not applicable somehow in some situations any more. What if the fish are dying from pollution or stocks are diminished by factory ships owned by global corporations? So when must we do more? However, this should not be taken as an excuse for not giving for the immediate first stage of direct help to the needy person in front of us or on the television screen. The first stage is temporarily satisfying but we should also see issues emerging that could be handled through democratic processes and thorough political actions. We can influence others to ask deeper questions as well after providing the first-aid; we should not be afraid of the consequences and should see this as God’s work as well for the planet and the environment. We should see that a check list of ‘cheque book charity giving’ is not sufficient in these situations.

We read how Jesus drives out the money changers from the Temple, confronts the power of the establishment for their attitudes, and prepares his disciples to work for justice for all under threats. It is very significant to note that St. John has placed this event at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, while synoptic gospels place this revolutionary incidence in the last week of Jesus’ ministry. St. John is possibly giving emphasis on how Jesus challenged the commercialisation of religion from the beginning of his ministry. We see the call to justice as a deeper calling and deeper commitment for establishing kingdom values. Therefore, in the first stage we must feed those who are starving and offer the homeless shelter because “It is in the shelter of each other that people live.” But just as Jesus both fed the hungry and challenged the system, so should we.

Charity without establishing justice is unrealistic. However, commitment to social justice issues alone without some empirical direct works of mercy is not complete and often lacking in sensitivity. Our lack of understanding the complexity of issues involved, the failure of others to understand us, and our aloneness may erode our initial enthusiasm. Our resolution should be to see both stages as necessary for the transformation of the world. But it is much more: social and political involvements are more demanding. We do not just feed people from the level of our own affluence and abundance; we should assist people on a level where their own participation is utterly important. We do not just work for the poor; we work with the poor in solidarity with them. During the Lent period we should reflect on two events: first, we should look inside ourselves and see the transfigured and risen-Christ; secondly, we should look out and see the Earth with all its problems and potential possibilities through the grace of risen-Christ. This vision allows us to remain enthusiastic about the kingdom experience within ourselves. Lenten discipline teaches us to see this bigger picture and controls any tendency to focus too narrowly on our ego-centred needs at the exclusion of everything else.

Christ, the perfect person incarnate, comes among his own and his own people do not receive him. This actual rejection does not change his mission in any way. Jesus is not bothered about his acceptance by the hierarchy or the establishment; he goes on feeding the people when hungry and healing the sick when asked for and directly challenging the system when necessary. Let us go with Jesus to Jerusalem to understand his broader mission; this may help us to deepen our own compassion, which reaches beyond assisting people who are hungry or homeless; we may begin to make a first attempt to look into the causes of hunger and homelessness. Our sense of mercy opens the door for political and social action within a participatory democracy: we see and interact with people in need in our own neighbourhoods and then throughout the world; we enter more deeply and publicly into their suffering through a growing solidarity; we begin to experience the pain and humiliation they suffer.

We need a very special sensitivity to see the needs of all creation and taking the basic steps to alleviate those needs. An engaging spirituality in the face of these challenges will be of help in confronting and not fleeing from the terrible tragedies. Resurrection spirit gives us the encouragement to risk getting angry at the aggressors, the polluters, people who cause the damage and desolation. A shallow compassion overlooks the oppressor and focuses only on the one suffering, as though bandaging the effect will treat the cause. Paying for few dialysis treatments or supplying few kidney machines may not have any impact on underlying chronic end stage kidney disease, but simple measures of controlling blood pressure, reducing salt intake or treating diabetes in the community would have a much greater benefit. Looking after mostly bourgeoisie illness of obesity, diabetes and heart disease may divert the money needed for research and development for diseases pandemic in 80% of the world population due to HIV and AID, starvation, and sanitation. A God-centred deepening compassion combines both mercies for the victims and righteous anger at the culprits who are preventing available resources reaching the suffering humanity. Compassion becomes a balm that soothes and heals; it is also a laxative that starts deeper things moving; may be it is ultimately the glue that holds us together as human beings.

Let us look more deeply into the question of who this Jesus is at this Easter: namely someone who can be both merciful and angry at the same time, and is willing to express either emotion when necessary. Jesus may cry over Jerusalem, but Jesus also becomes angry with those who cause its impending destruction. Now as we walk with Jesus in the palm-laid streets and approach the Passion Week, we experience the compassion of a suffering Jesus. This experience should give us a radically compassionate commitment for social justice; a radically compassionate and transfigured person should become an agent for social action. This discernment is not to become mere bystanders of global issues concerning all created things; the discernment is to involve, engage, and focus our attention to at least one of the issues as a ‘Simon of Cyrene’ on our Calvary visit on this Good Friday.

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