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Am I my brother’s keeper?

Charity and justice are not whims, nor impulses, nor fleeting inspirations; charity and justice are social obligations

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4: 9)

This question which Cain mockingly replied to God asking about the whereabouts of the brother he had just killed, is the same question which generations later the Son of God would answer with a firm and resolute “Yes!”  And the Christ would pay for it with his life.

Our Lord taught and served, fought and died for the coming of the kingdom of God, an achievable state of stable social justice and peace, founded on individual conversion and faithfulness; selfless and compassionate charity; and mutual responsibility for one another, especially for those in need. However, a conceptualization of social transformation based on a praxis of consistent self-giving and service, will not hold strongly in a human society already conditioned towards self-preservation and a constant craving for self-protection of interests behind possessions, power and prestige. Anyone who harbors and promotes such ideas are doomed to be “eliminated”.

But our unsilenced Lord continues to promote these dangerous actions that led to his earthly death, because he knows it is highly important and urgent that he leaves us with a disturbing message that if we cannot sustain social justice and peace, then our communities and way of life will disintegrate and become a forgotten historical memory.  

In this week-long remembrance of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Christ, we hope to lovingly recall this mission he began, and which we as his followers should continue. It is therefore only fitting that we seriously reflect on why we should serve the kingdom of God, and to make firm resolutions to persevere in the ministry for which he lived and died … thereby embodying him who is risen again!

The image that may come to mind whenever we mention “greed” is that of a cunning, Scrooge-like character wearing a deceptive smile with cold, calculating hands twisting in ghoulish delight. Though Dickens’ protagonist is redeemed at the end of his Christmas story, Mr. Scrooge became synonymous to an ugly facet of human nature that no one will ever admit to have in malicious proportions.

But there is a stain of “greed” in every person.

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Greed is essentially selfishness which turned uglier. Selfishness connotes a deep human inclination to solely pursue one’s interests while at the same time, remaining indifferent to the needs of others. Selfishness is thus the absence of charity. On the other hand, greed connotes an inordinate drive not only to think and provide for oneself, but also to claim or take what clearly belongs to others. Greed is thus the absence of justice. Clearly, if we can still tolerate the lack of charity as being a matter of particular gravity, the lack of justice is hence indecent and abominable.

We believe that individually, we have unique abilities given by God that determine our capacity to provide for our sustenance and development. These abilities also determine our usefulness to the common good of society, and theologically to the ongoing work of creation and re-creation of God. It follows therefore, that some of us are more capable than others in accomplishing certain tasks and so, are compensated or rewarded more with a greater share of material goods.

A nun from the Ilagan Diocesan Social Action Center distributes relief goods to a flood victim in Ilagan City’s Alinguigan village on Nov. 14, 2020. (Photo supplied)

So even though one person is able to obtain more wealth than another person — provided that accumulated wealth is intended primarily for the sustenance and development of one’s family — while ample opportunities exist or are made to exist for the other person to do the same or even better, then there will be justice and peace. On the other hand, there is greed — or the absence of justice – when:

Greed is not only the refusal or taking-away of wealth from those who need it badly, or from those who may be perceived as “undeserving” of it; it is also the refusal or taking-away of opportunities. Needless to say, all of us have in some way or another contributed to the prevalence of this social sin, because we have made immense demands upon ourselves, not on acting as our “brother’s keeper” by helping alleviate the poor and marginalized, but on persistently and unrelentingly trying to “become better than others”.

Have we not been so preoccupied with being “more efficient,” earning “increased returns or savings,” gaining “power and respect” or “financial leverage,” achieving a “triumph of the human spirit,” or “leaving a legacy,” etc.? We are in fact, so much conditioned to admire and emulate those who have successfully done so. In our incessant drive to “become better than others,” we tend to make daily decisions that either result in neglecting the poor, or in making them even poorer.

On certain occasions, we may remember them in our “charity programs” or “mercy missions,” but are we only trying to prove to others and to ourselves that beneath our professional brilliance, we “still have a kind heart?” Is charity only a whim or an impulse, and is justice only a fleeting inspiration of the more fortunate and advantaged, for which the less fortunate and highly disadvantaged “should be grateful!?”

Charity and justice are not whims, nor impulses, nor fleeting inspirations; charity and justice are social obligations. For the Christ, these duties were not options. Any shortcomings on our part, will have to be accounted to the Spirit on our last day and so, there is no excuse for selfishness and greed. Whether or not we choose to be so, God has decreed that each of us is or must become our “brother’s keeper.”

Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.

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