Our age is characterized by problems that are a matter of life and death. When I was a child and a young adult, the biggest fear we had was the fear of the atomic bomb. Although that fear still exists, especially since many other unstable nations have the bombs but there are other fears just as valid. Among them are the diminishing of our natural resources, the population explosion, climate change, disappearing and polluted food supplies, and the over all pollution of our planet. Any one of these problems by itself would be enough of a threat but taken together, they spell probable disaster.
There is no need to overemphasize these problems. They could be solved. The problem is getting the private sector and the government to even acknowledge and begin to work on them. Solutions require radical changes in the way many of us live, as well as radical changes in our values and thought patterns. Unfortunately, humans do not accept change easily.
We have built an exclusive political system and a counterproductive economic system based on selfishness. The system produces overwhelming wealth and poverty at the same time. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Our system is competitive and not everyone has an equal chance. Education, the road out of poverty, is expensive and seemingly unreachable by many of the poor. In this world, the more you have the more you can make and the less there is for those who do not have enough to even compete with you. Organized religion does little to help in this crisis. In fact, it sometimes makes things worse.
But this is not the first time the world has found itself in this dilemma. Jesus faced almost the same problem but on a smaller scale. He lived in a time when it seemed to many that the world might come to an end at any time. This belief caused him to set out on his life’s mission. He had an unparalleled leap of imagination for his time. He saw a way to total liberation for his culture. He turned his attention to the poor, the blind, the lame, the crippled, the hungry, sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, demoniacs, and the downtrodden. These people had lost all hope and human dignity and were dependent upon the mercy of others.
Rome had hoped to keep the poor and desperate from revolution by feeding them daily bread. It did not make Jesus and his disciples popular with the government when they began to encourage those who had food and resources to care for those who had none. Jesus, in his great compassion, not only fed them and healed them but he gave them back their feeling of self worth by including them in what he referred to as God’s Kingdom or Empire on earth. God’s Empire and Jesus would eventually appear to Rome to be a threat.
In today’s world, compassion would seem to be a pretty rare commodity. But it has been noted that there are 50,000,000 people in the world today that are working to alleviate the plight of those in poverty. That’s a lot of compassion. So there is hope. There is hope that more people are becoming aware of the physical and emotional needs of those who feel hopeless in today’s world. If we can just re-capture the message and mission of Jesus and find the compassion to minister to the needs of the poor in such a way so as to restore them as productive members of society, there is hope of sacred community once again.