The history of humanity is often one of oppression and suffering.
I am fortunate to live in a country that has been blessed by God in many ways, including religious freedom and much prosperity. The majority of people I know attempt to be fair and just — and to provide a “safety net” for people who are unable to take care of themselves. But like all countries, my country is imperfect in the implementation of its ideals because people are imperfect. Governments are only as good as the people in them — and people make mistakes.
When governments do not adequately respond to people in need, people must become involved through prayer, their places of worship, charitable giving, lawful political involvement, or other personal interaction. Jesus teaches that we should help those who cannot help themselves. He teaches that it’s God’s will that we treat everyone as we would want to be treated were we in their position.
From the earliest times, God has called on people to care for society’s oppressed and to treat them fairly and with justice: “Cursed is he who is unjust to the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow.’ And all the people shall reply, ‘Amen.’” (Deuteronomy 27:19) The times may have changed, but not the need for compassion and mercy. There will be poor and oppressed people always and it is God’s will that we do not turn away.
It’s tempting for people to look away from the problems facing the vulnerable members of our societies. I have been guilty of this too many times. Perhaps it’s too overwhelming for us, too sad, or it makes us feel uncomfortable and helpless. Or perhaps we wrongly believe that the problems of people who have been treated unfairly, are facing desperate circumstances, or who otherwise need our help, are not our responsibility. Perhaps we have become discouraged and mistakenly believe that nothing we do will make a difference. Perhaps we have become frustrated by some of the abuses and sense of entitlement that have arisen when we have been charitable in the past. What a blunder.
I believe Jesus asks us to push past all that — and respond to what we see.
Sometimes the greatest threat to our humanity is the things we see but fail to act upon.
God does not want us to look away from suffering and injustice. As God’s children, we are called upon to do His work on earth. It is our responsibility, with God’s help and guidance, to provide charity, justice, and mercy to all those in need: “But if, when you arrive in the land the Lord will give you, there are any among you who are poor, you must not shut your heart or hand against them; you must lend them as much as they need… You must lend him what he needs, and don’t moan about it either! For the Lord will prosper you in everything you do because of this! There will always be some among you who are poor; that is why this commandment is necessary. You must lend to them liberally.” (Deuteronomy 15:7-11)
It is my understanding that Jesus embraced the Old Testament’s attitudes of charity towards others. Some might argue He expanded them by example and the ideals that He taught.
In one instance, Jesus was talking about the time when men and women will be judged by God. He said, ” Then I, the King, shall say to those at my right, ‘Come blessed of my Father, into the Kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world. For I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me water; I was a stranger and you invited me into your homes; naked and you clothed me; sick and in prison, and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:34-36) Jesus continued…’When you refused to help the least of these my brothers, you were refusing to help me.’ (Matthew 25:45) Helping others is helping Jesus; failure to help people in need is failure to help our Lord.
When I see people who need my help, I pray that I will not simply respond with empathy, but also with action of some kind — a prayer on their behalf, a simple gesture of kindness, or a loving hand.
For when someone is in need, God is calling us to act. And empathy without action is no love at all.
Photo by Jazzdat entitled, “Wall Mural, Brazil”