By Caroline N. Sharp
Lent has got to be the most exciting time in Jesus’ ministry.
Everything he’s done for the past few years is coming to a head. He has exposed himself and riled communities and was considered to be a troublemaker by some. He even got upset and flipped tables!
Jesus was a wordsmith and a true advocate for human rights, standing up for the poor and oppressed – people my husband and I call “Jesus’ people.” You know the ones, the people you don’t want to look at or you have trouble forcing yourself to smile and make eye contact with. The ones most of us don’t see in our parishes on Sunday mornings.
The status quo of parish populations does not generally fall into this category of being Jesus’ people but there are plenty of groups who do. Yet, somehow, we tend to avoid Jesus’ people as much as possible – the homeless, the poor, the hungry, the disabled, the broken people in society, and those who don’t fit into our box of privilege.
For example, did you know that 73 per cent of First Nations' water systems are at high or medium risk of contamination? How does this happen in Canada, of all places? How is it that even though over half of our population considers themselves to be Christian this is still a problem?
According to Statistics Canada, unmet housing needs are up 1.6%, unmet health needs are up 18% and food insecurity is up 3.7% - the most recent of these values is from 2020 and I am certain that these have only been exacerbated of late. Average hourly rates are falling and both literacy and numeracy in teenagers is increasing dramatically. But what are we doing to change this?
We know our school boards are suffering. Teachers and those who work in classrooms with them do not get paid their worth. The education of all of our children is failing them, especially since COVID hit.
In this time of COVID, we’ve also discovered how rotten many of the nursing homes are where we expect our beloved parents and grandparents to live. Where is the line we draw in the sand when our public system no longer agrees with the morals of our Christian system? Where is Jesus’ line (and we know he likes to draw in the sand)?
Thinking about these issues always reminds me of Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). We have the scriptures, Jesus pulled off a ton of miracles and people still believe in Christ thousands of years later. So, why don’t we want to do what we know is right? How far are we willing to go to make sure that the Lazarus’ of today receive the love and care that Jesus asks of us? And what does this have to do with Lent?
According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Lent is:
... a 40 day season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Holy Thursday. It's a period of preparation to celebrate the Lord's Resurrection at Easter. During Lent, we seek the Lord in prayer by reading Sacred Scripture; we serve by giving alms; and we practice self-control through fasting. We are called not only to abstain from luxuries during Lent, but to a true inner conversion of heart as we seek to follow Christ's will more faithfully. We recall the waters of baptism in which we were also baptized into Christ's death, died to sin and evil, and began new life in Christ. (https://www.usccb.org/prayer-worship/liturgical-year/lent)
At least once a year, we are reminded that we are to follow “Christ’s will more faithfully.” Jesus asks us to clothe his people and feed them as we would him.
Okay, maybe some of us do that. The reality is that many of the programs born through a social justice need were put into place during the great depression but they never went away because poverty will always exist. There are those who wish to get to the root of the problem and advocate for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) which aims to eradicate poverty and serve the population in an equitable fashion. Is that the solution? Maybe, but maybe not. I don’t have all the answers.
Perhaps the answer lies with real empathy – to understand Jesus’ people. We often come from a place of privilege and view life through a lens of colonialism. Many of us can’t identify or relate with people who find themselves in tough spots. Changing this demands that we build relationships and love everyone we meet.
Building relationships take a lot of time and effort which is something everyone seems to be short on these days. When was the last time you grabbed a couple of coffees and sat with an unhomed person to hear their story and learn who they are? When was the last time you offered to babysit for a young single mom who wants to reeducate herself (so she can stop working 3 part time, minimum wage jobs) and make a better life for her family?
It is though building relationships that we learn that Jesus’ people are just like us but they just can’t get a break. Maybe they don’t have the privilege we have. Maybe they need a friend who can use their privilege to get hearts to soften and ears to hear. When we learn about people, we also learn to love them for who they are with all their quirks (because we all have them) and that is definitely something I think we’re missing. We find ourselves eager to learn and educate ourselves except when it comes to learning about the people we come across every day.
Find a way to make connections with the Jesus people you see. If you don’t see them, maybe you need to walk a few extra blocks down the road because Jesus people are everywhere. If it isn’t an unhomed person, maybe it’s the lonely old lady who lives across the street or angry teenager next door who always gets yelled at. The world is full of Jesus people who need the love of Christ which is in you to give.
Caroline N. Sharp is a tri-chair of SEJH.