Serving Jesus in the Poor and the Needy
Readings: (1st: Am 8, 4-7; Ps: 112, 1-2. 4-8; 2nd: ITim 2, 1-8; Gos: Lk 16, 1-13)
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a member of the Congregation Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers, Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, Phone: +23408063767512, +23408024942843
As a Seminarian, during one of my pastoral experiences in the Garden and Oil-rich City of Port Harcourt Nigeria, I was shocked by the gory and dehumanizing state and sight of certain shanties surrounded by modern edifices and mansions just close to the church where I carried out my work. It was an ironical case of abject poverty embedded in affluence, and a case of a community being so rich and yet so poor. No matter how beautiful those mansions were, the site of the shanties made nonsense of their aesthetics. During my few weeks there, each time I passed by or through these shanties located very close to a swamp and heavily polluted river, I asked myself what crime the inmates of these batchers committed against God, the government, the rich and influential around them, with whom they shared the community? Are they less humans than the owners of those mansions or did God create them when there was no light and enough materials? Till I left the city I found no answers to these questions. To worsen my problem, when I returned to the same city a year later for a visit, I discovered that the shanties had been gutted by fire and, most of the poor living there lost all they had in life. How can we explain this than to say that there is too much inequality and injustice in our world? A missionary some weeks ago on EWTN, titled his documentary on one remote area of Philippines: “Life and Survival in the in the Refuse Dump.” Why should human beings live in the refuse dump? Injustice and man’s in humanity to man, greed, selfishness and oppression are the obvious and handy answers!
This 25th Sunday, the Church enjoins us to reflect on our attitude towards money, material things and our relationship with the poor and marginalized. If there is anything that has perpetuated poverty all over the world, it is injustice and inequality in the social class. Hence, Amos in today’s first reading decries the injustices meted out against the poor of the land. He wrote at a time when the rich took all the land, enslaved the poor in their farm lands, and exported food that could have been used to feed the entire citizens because of their gains in foreign currencies. The same situation menaces us today. If we look around we see poverty and the poor all around us. Sometimes the excuse we give to exonerate ourselves from the injustice they suffer is that, “they are lazy and not hard working!” I do not buy this opinion in-toto. Rather, a majority of them are where they are because of our greed and selfishness. We capitalized on their weaknesses and carted away what belonged to us and them. A certain fellow was chosen and sent by his people to go and represent them in a national house so that he could get their allocation of government contracts for infrastructural development in their community. They contributed money from their merger resources in order to pay for his flight to and fro, his accommodation and for his daily up keeps in the capital city. When the fellow got the allocations he sold them off to representatives of other communities who brandished huge sum of money before him. He opened a personal bank account right there in the city and “saved” the money. In order to prove to his people that things did not work out well as expected, he decided to board a public transport by road back home. Unfortunately, and perhaps because of his iniquity, the bus got involved in a ghastly accident and he was left half dead. Just before his death, he invited the elders of his community and confessed what he did, and asked them for forgiveness. What a shame! This is a true picture of the nature and shape of the injustice, greed and selfishness in our world.
This is why Paul implores us to pray for every one especially, Kings, Rulers, Leaders and all those In-charge. This prayer is necessary for conversion because, once we are converted we eschew corruption, injustice, greed and oppression of the poor from our system. This is very important because God as Paul puts it: “wants everyone to be saved and reach the full knowledge of the truth.” This truth is that there is only one God, and we all are children of this one God. Once we understand this then, selfishness and egocentrism will disappear. We shall no longer think of ourselves alone to the detriment of others. We shall begin to consider the common interest and good of all. It is the will of God that we should be happy here and have a share in the rich resources with which he endowed our world. This is what being saved means. It equally means being saved from starvation in the midst of plenty, and it means being saved from injustices, greed and corruption that perpetuates poverty.
In the gospel, Jesus brings to light the fact that money and material things do not last forever, and therefore advices us on how to make use of them without losing our salvation. “The best way to invest,” a saying goes, “is to invest in human beings, especially the poor”. We should therefore learn from St Lawrence the martyr, patron of the poor and cooks, who presented to the Prefect of Rome fifteen hundred poor people he maintained as the Church’s treasure, instead of silver and gold. Amassing money and wealth for ourselves without using them to help those in need only amounts to shear greed and stupidity which profits nothing. It equally amounts to mere love of money and material things over and above God and our neighbours. This leads to idolatry because they become the only source of one’s happiness and joy. As long as they are there one remains happy, but when they are not there, one’s happiness fizzles out. That is why Paul warns us that: “The love of money is the root of all evil” (ITim 6, 10). Money and wealth only have value in so far as they are used judiciously to help oneself and the needy around us. Only fools hold tenaciously to money and wealth over and above God, and to the detriment of the poor. By doing this they indirectly, “say in their hearts there is no God” (Ps 14:1), because of the satisfaction they derive from their money and wealth. Only the ungodly use their wealth to oppress the poor and the weak, but the wise and the shrewd use them to help people. When we are blessed by God with wealth, it is important to realize that we are only but managers or stewards of it, for the purpose of its equitable distribution to those in need of it and not for our own selfish interest.
Finally, we are not to manipulate the poor and needy for economic gains. Jesus Christ who is their defender will surely fight their course because of the injustices meted out on them. He has sacrificed himself for humanity, the poor inclusive, and therefore any form of injustice or oppression of the poor or weak as Amos decries will cry out to Jesus for vengeance as the blood of Abel did from the earth against Cain. This is because He is the one who raises the poor from the dung heap and lifts the lowly from the dust.
Peace be with you all!