This week, from Sunday 14 to Saturday 20 October, is Anti-Poverty Week. Rev Sophia Lizares, Chaplain at UnitingCare West offers Revive readers this reflection. UnitingCare West is a Uniting Church WA agency providing care and support to many of WA’s most vulnerable people.
They’ve been at that corner for so long no one notices them anymore – the beggar at the gates blind from birth, the haemorrhaging woman impoverished by having to pay for ineffective remedies, farmers evicted by banks and children with blank eyes and numbers instead names tucked far away on an island.
If they are seen, they are misunderstood, judged, objects in the eyes of the privileged who disdain their ‘lifestyle choices’. They get moved on for sitting for ‘too long’ without identification on a bench in front of the State Library. They create a scene in an attempt to get themselves a night in jail. At least there would be a bed there; at least they would be safe.
At night, buildings switch on unforgiving lights and sounds, repelling those who spend whole days on their feet, desperately trying to think straight, to stand tall. There is no room; they must keep walking, driven out of the paradise of the fair go.
If they don’t go, we do; leaving for the safe sameness of enclaves. We remove ourselves from streets where junk spills over into the verge, and away from places where crime is rife. We leave, as do our neighbours.
The community is broken – and so is God’s heart.
“Where are you?” God asks. “Where is your brother? Your sister? The one I made in my image? Like you.”
We might stammer: “Am I my brother’s keeper? Besides, didn’t three of the four Gospel writers have Jesus on record as saying, ‘the poor you will always have with you’?”
A woman had just poured out her heart and expensive myrrh on Jesus’ head and his disciples bewailed the waste.
“The poor you will always have with you.”
This is more than a prediction of entrenched inter-generational poverty, exclusion and disadvantage. Jesus’ words could well be judgment or at least a warning. His astute hearers would have heard in that echoes of Moses’ Law: “Within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbour. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought.”(Deuteronomy 15: 7-9)
Behind the law of compassion is a calling for God’s people to be a witness to all nations. They were to live differently from those who worshipped idols, those with hearts of stone that had no eyes to see the ravages of the market and political ambition, the premium on the ‘good look’ and easy solutions. They were to reject this state of thievery, lawlessness and destruction which the neighbour could lay no claims upon us and what we believe to be our space, our time, our resources – even our lives.
Love God above all and your neighbour as yourself. Undergirding this ethic is the abundance and grace of God’s garden, where life, relationships and land are for the benefit of all. In a realm of grace where a person’s existence is justified not by achievement or capacity to produce, but by the infinite story of hope that God holds for that person and all of creation.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Look around your neighbourhood. What breaks your heart? How are we to walk together in God’s garden?