23 September 2007, XXV Sunday of the Year

Am 8:4-7; 1 Tim 2:1-8; Lk 16:1-13


You cannot serve God and Mammon

Several years ago in a large and growing city in North India a huge slum was reduced to ashes by a sudden and mysterious fire which killed a few dozen men, women and children, incapacitated a few hundred burn victims, rendered thousands homeless and laid waste to a huge, open area very close to the mansions of the rich and the powerful. Too close! Very close. That was the crime of those poor slum dwellers most of whom were working either in the shops and factories of those very same rich people or in their homes as domestics, drivers, peons, gardeners, guards or garbage collectors. That was their real crime. They were too close for comfort. That was indeed the true cause of the fire. It was not an accident. It was arson. Someone had deliberately set the slum on fire in order to hasten slum clearance. The government of the day, of course, went through the routine ritual of announcing an inquiry, giving compensation and forcibly carting away the hopeless victims and dumping them far away in the wilderness in the name of relocation and rehabilitation.

To-day, after all the politicians have had their day pretending to reach out to the victims, after all the journalists have expended their ink writing columns about the tragedy, after all the visual media has exhausted their sound bites and after all the NGOs have fattened their bank balances using this terrible human tragedy to loosen the purse strings of the compassionate in foreign shores, the unfortunate victims are still living in subhuman conditions in a miserable new slum at the outskirts of the burgeoning metropolis anxiously wondering when the next arson will come.

Meanwhile, the huge, open land where they lived for decades prior to the fire is now a huge housing estate with a mall, a school, an amusement park and even a Temple, beautiful to see, pleasant to visit and comfortable to live in.

This incident is but a small piece of the enormous reality of how a small minority of rich and powerful, corrupt and greedy, cruel and unscrupulous can literally get away with mass murder and brutal crime in a country which boasts of an ancient culture, a deep spirituality and a vibrant democracy.

Democracy can indeed be a huge fig leaf to conceal cruelty, callousness, conspiracy and crime on a massive scale. Democracy can be a convenient cover for unscrupulous and greedy citizens to manipulate the gullible, intimidate the weak and violently suppress all resistance in the name of development and progress, only to rob the poor of their land, their livelihood and their life itself. When we gawk with open mouthed awe and wonder at huge housing estates with enormous sky scrapers offering every kind of comfort, security and luxury that money can buy, we would do well to pause and ponder on those unspoken, unsung and unprotected millions whose blood, sweat and tears have made these mammoth monsters possible. When we read approvingly about the rapidly mushrooming special Economic Zones all over the country we would do well to remember the poor, weak, defenseless and disposed farmers who have lost their tiny pieces of land, their very sources of subsistence to these modern temples to Mammon.

When we listen to our friends, relatives and alumni boasting of the fat pay packets they get from the multinationals who employ them, we would do well to spare a thought for those others of our brothers and sisters, numbering in their millions, who slog whole day and a good part of the night, with no rest, respite or relaxation, only to earn a few miserable rupees a month, barely enough to feed their health and educate their children. When we enjoy a truly exhilarating drive in a cozy luxury car of a dear friend, we would do well to look out of the window and see the public transport system moving at a snail’s pace and groaning under the impossible burden of overcrowded carriage where human beings, packed like sardines, struggle to breath, with the dear hope of arriving in one piece at their destination. When we sing the praises of our posh educational institutions, endowed with spacious new classrooms, state of the art gadgets and spanky bright uniforms we would do well to see the other face of India where dirty, disease ridden, emaciated, starving, ill-clad little innocents are herded like cattle in dark, dreary dungeons for classrooms and are subjected for inhuman brutality, unspeakable damage to human dignity and a dumb charade called education.

What does God feel when God sees this situation of deliberate exploitation, cruel oppression and systematic dispossession? What does God think of those men and women even Christians, even religious who think nothing of spending lavishly on themselves while at the same time going through spasms of pain when they have to pay just salaries and living wages to their domestics and other employees? What has God to say to those of us who despise the poor, harass them when they work for us, humiliate them when they approach us with requests, come down hard on them, when they make some small mistakes and systematically exclude them from our ministries in the name of maintaining high standards and securing better results?

We would de well to read and re-read the words of Amos, until they are branded indelibly on our consciousness, particularly; “Never will I forget a single thing you have done.” We would de well to mediate on the Gospel of Luke particularly those words of Jesus; “You cannot be a slave of Mammon and at the same time serve God.” And above all we would do well to heed the advice of Paul to Timothy; “There should be prayers for all, because God wishes all to be saved.” Therefore, even as we battle against corruption, exploitation and injustice we keep praying for the conversion of the corrupt, the greedy and the unjust.

-Freddie

(If you have benefited from these reflections, kindly introduce this blog to your friends)

One Response to “23 September 2007, XXV Sunday of the Year”

  1. Eric Says:

    Very good. I did not think on these lines. It touched the root of todays reading.

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