Brenden’s Video–Charity and Justice

I just watched a most inspiring video. It is a video of Brenden Foster, an 11 year old boy who is dying of leukemia. Brendan knew he had two weeks to live. On his way back to the hospital after a treatment, he saw homeless people huddled in a place. He knew he had to do something to help them. “I have to give them something.” Too weak to do anything himself, he enlisted the aid of others. Soon food drives for the homeless flourished in Seattle and then across the country. What a wonderful legacy this 11 year old has left. Watch this inspiring video as another child teaches us
This led me to reflect on the issue of charity and justice. Charity is relieving the suffering of others by giving them what they need—food, clothing, shelter, education, health care. Many, many people perform great works of charity. They contribute their money, time and other resources to alleviate the misery of others. This is necessary and commendable work.
However, what we do to eliminate and alleviate human suffering must go beyond charity. Dom Camera Helder once said, “If I feed people, they call me a saint. If I ask why the poor hungry, they call me a communist.” He is speaking to the justice dimension. Justice goes beyond charity. It’s easy to donate some money at the donation table and walk out of the church and think that you have solved the problem. You have not solved the problem. Justice requires us to look at social and political structures and to see how these structures are oppressing people. These structures set up situations that keep people in poverty. Many third world countries are spending their entire capital repaying loans from international organizations like the IMF. We have been converting corn to ethanol so we can have cheap gasoline while millions starve to death. Asking what structures are exploiting people and then asking how we can change so structures is what justice is all about.
Biblically speaking, justice means right relationships. As Christians, we must be asking how we can establish right relationships. We do not have a right relationships when there is a growing gap between the income of the rich and the income of the poor. Last year in America 1% of the people earned 20% of the income. Worldwide billions of people live on less than two dollars a day. These inequities are caused by the way those in power structure things economically, politically, and socially. Justice requires us to examine the structures and to take action to remove the inequities that exist.
As we enter Advent, we need to remember that it is a special time for both charity and justice. Recently, CNN interviewed the president of the Atlanta food bank. In this tough economy, he reported that contributions were up by 10%; however, the reported that at the door food was up 40%. He also added that some people who used to contribute to the food bank were now receiving food from the food bank.
If we drop our coins and the Salvation Army buckets as we enter the stores or make other contributions, let us also ask why we are having to do this. Why in the richest nation on earth do we have 37 million people living in poverty? Why do we have countless children going to bed hungry every night? Why do millions not have access to adequate medical care? Why do millions of children receive substandard educations? These are justice questions. These are questions we must ask if we are to make any permanent changes in the structures which oppressed people.
Our task as Christians is outlined in Matthew 25. Advent and Christmas remind us that God became flesh. They remind us that God came to dwell among us. They remind us that Jesus the only begotten incarnate son lived among us and alleviated human misery and suffering. Today, we are the ears, the eyes, the feet, the hands, and the voice of Jesus. Our task is to alleviate human misery and suffering in the short-term and in the long haul. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to do charity and justice.

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