Thinking Anew: Jesus sets the standard of care in a just and Christian society
When a young Barack Obama arrived in Chicago he joined a church because he was told by his boss that it was the place to go
Barack Obama joined a church in Chicago. “That’s where the people are,” he was told “and that’s where the values are, even if they’ve been buried . . .” Above, on his visit to Dublin as President. Photograph: Alan Betson / THE IRISH TIMES
In the recent referendum there was genuine concern for the wellbeing of women and children on both sides of the debate, but as the recent RTÉ documentary No Country for Women made clear, Ireland’s record is not good. We condemn the Trump administration for separating mothers and children, but we now know it happened here for decades and as a society we looked the other way. We are still capable of looking the other way.
A recent report on housing by the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Economic Social Research Institute reveals that there are troubling levels of discrimination and inequality affecting the young and vulnerable in today’s Ireland. Women and children feature prominently. The report indicates that homeless families are disadvantaged when it comes to finding somewhere to live and 60 per cent of these are single parent families headed by lone mothers. What is available to them is of poor quality, often damp and badly heated in disadvantaged areas.
When a young Barack Obama arrived in Chicago as a community organiser he joined a church because he was told by his boss that it was the place to go: “That’s where the people are,” he was told “and that’s where the values are, even if they’ve been buried under a load of . . . [expletive deleted].” That is still true of many church communities and those who seek to marginalise the churches clearly have no idea or don’t care what the consequences would be for the poor and vulnerable given that the clergy and religious are to a great extent, the last professionals living 24/7 with the people they serve.
Barack Obama was told of values buried. Church leaders give weight to that idea by appearing to have a lot to say about human relationships and human sexuality while remaining relatively quiet on other issues that affect people’s lives negatively such as the availability of decent accommodation for mothers and children.
The late Archbishop Robert Runcie of Canterbury said: “The church has a special concern to speak for the vulnerable, the inarticulate, those who are weak in bargaining power – for all those who are at the bottom of the heap. It also has a concern for justice. This will mean that . . . on many matters of economic and social concern, it should have special things to say. If it fails to say them, it is not being true to its beliefs.”
In tomorrow’s gospel reading Jesus sets the standard of care for everyone in a just and Christian society. He is confronted by two people, both with needs. One is an elderly woman who has been bleeding for years and is therefore “unclean” according to the purity laws of the time. The other is a gravely ill 12-year-old child. Note the huge difference in the economic and social standing of the two: the woman has little or no status and appears to have no husband or family members to support her. She doesn’t even have a name. The little girl is in a different place because she belongs to a family with connections and she has her father, a leader of the synagogue, to speak up for her.
Jesus responds positively to both. He commends the lone woman who had the courage and the faith to ignore strict purity laws and reach out to him. He heals her and refers to her as “daughter” thus placing her on the same level as the girl he would later attend to. In our system the girl might have gone private and the old woman placed on a hospital waiting list.
In these encounters Jesus shows respect for each person and rejects the idea that if there is a winner there must be a loser. In God’s world caring for the rich does not come at the expense of caring for the poor or vice versa. The deciding factor should be need.
“If a free society cannot help the many who are poor it cannot save the rich who are few” – John F Kennedy.