Oh dear me, Oh dear me! The parable in today’s gospel targets the violence of apathy and neglect which is widening the chasm between rich and poor throughout the world. The trouble is that even such abstractions become easy to live with. We need some firsthand experience of encountering the real people whom we will then not be able to dismiss as relative statistics. And if that cannot be first hand, we need to help people engage in active imagination of what it really means to be poor, to be a refugee, to be caught on the wrong side of the chasms which vested interests maintain.
I remember as a child, seeing images of refugees from Biafra (and various other places) staring at me from TV screens. They were emaciated and listless. Men and women holding children who seemed barely alive – and I am ashamed to say that I saw these people as somehow a little less than human. Why? Because I couldn’t see how “real” people could accept their plight – seemingly, so calmly – without a fight. Surely they were lacking in understanding, much like sheep in the slaughter yards awaiting the end?
I think, in all of the arguing and politicking about refugees, we have somehow done the same with regard to those who seek asylum in Australia and other parts of the world today. I have several friends who have had to escape violence in various countries… leaving property and family as they fled, in fear. I am sure there are some in your circle of acquaintances. Many of those I know are Christian and have white skin. Does that make their situation and their need for asylum somehow more acceptable?
By lumping asylum seekers together and calling them “boat people” we somehow rob them of humanity and, in the wake of various terrorist attacks perpetrated by militant “religious” groups, we reject them out of fear. Why would any mother or father gather a precious cargo of children and risk crossing oceans in unsafe and overcrowded vessels, unless they were seeking to escape something far worse.
We in Australia, as a society, are the rich. What will we do with regards to the poor on our doorstep?