‘We are the ones’ (who can make a difference)

Last week’s column looked at the parable of the five loaves and two fish and ended by hoping that if we use what little we have at our disposal, we could work modern-day miracles.

Jul 10, 2021

By Anil Netto
Last week’s column looked at the parable of the five loaves and two fish and ended by hoping that if we use what little we have at our disposal, we could work modern-day miracles.

Since then, the ‘white flags’ movement has emerged and #benderaputih has trended on social media.

The idea behind this is simple yet inspiring. If any person or family is short of food and other basic supplies during the lockdowns, all they have to do is hoist a white flag. Concerned persons and groups would then show up, bringing along with them essential items. Anyone in need can receive help “without having to beg or feel embarrassed”.

This initiative has come not a moment too soon. After prolonged lockdowns of varying tightness, many are feeling the economic crunch. In the first five months of this year, 468 suicides were reported – over three a day – compared to 631 for the whole of last year. That’s just a measure of the widespread desperation felt by many low-income households.

The white flag movement in Malaysia has not gone unnoticed around the world. One global news agency in its report speaks about “kind Samaritans” in Malaysia even offering to pay the room rental of a nasi lemak vendor with a disability who had hoisted the white flag.

This reference to “kind Samaritans” should ring a bell. It reminds us of the Bishop of Rome’s Fratelli Tutti social encyclical on fraternity and human solidarity. This document is essentially an extended meditation on the parable of the Good Samaritan and its wider application to our local communities, our nations and our world.

Who is our neighbour? It is anyone who is in need. And who will help them? Even in the feeding of the multitude, the first action has to come from us with our limited resources (our five loaves and two fishes) and some organising (dividing the crowd into groups of 50 or 100).

Then, a miracle happens, and the crowd is fed. So important is the feeding of the 5,000 people that it is the only miracle reported in all four Gospels. But note, it had to start with the small offering of what the little boy had and some human organising. It is also the foreshadow of the Eucharist — “bread broken for a new world” — as Jesus broke the food before the crowd was fed.

Similar miracles can happen if we offer our limited resources, food and talents and get ourselves organised for the common good, in service of the kingdom. We have to do our part and allow the Father to do the rest.

In the case of the white flags, it was not just volunteers who played a part. Others felt inspired to join in. They spread the word on social media and pointed out the food banks in their neighbourhood. Some donated funds, others chipped in with supplies and logistics. Even mini-markets, supermarkets, small vendors and restaurants got into the act by providing free food. This was #kitajagakita at its best.

There is an old saying “We are the people we’ve been waiting for” – the origins of which are not entirely certain. Some say it was from the poet June Jordan; others say it came from Hopi elders.

Whatever, it is also the title of the anthem of the European football tournament, of all things. Here is an excerpt of the lyrics:

We are the people we’ve been waiting for
Out of the ruins of hate and war
Army of lovers never seen before
We are the people we’ve been waiting for
We are the people of the open hand
The streets of Dublin to Notre Dame
We’ll build it better than we did before
We are the people we’ve been waiting for
Yes, God needs us to work modern-day
miracles in our world in service of His Kingdom. What is pleasing about the white flag movement is that it has broken down barriers of class, ethnicity, religion and gender. It has given us a glimpse of what a more inclusive society would look like, where the barriers and walls we have created no longer exist. As the white flag is hoisted, all that matters then is: “How can we help?”

It is the same inside our general hospitals. There is no place for considerations of class, ethnicity, religion or gender when providing healthcare with great compassion or even in staffing. The contract doctors issue comes to mind.

Sure, there are larger structural problems confronting the nation. How do we strengthen the bonds of social solidarity, which have been fraying since the neoliberal trend hit us in the 1980s? How do we prioritise food security? How can we raise the capacity of our healthcare system? How do we improve the health and immune systems of the lower-income group when many of them don’t have enough to spend on wholesome nutritious meals? How do we wipe out corruption and use limited public funds to really help the people?

But for now, since the situation is pressing, we are called to respond to the urgent need at hand. We are also learning that the people cannot be separated from the Earth: the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor are closely intertwined. We are all interconnected by an invisible bond.

As the American social activist and novelist Alice Walker wrote: “We have wanted all our lives to know that Earth, who has somehow obtained human beings as her custodians, was also capable of creating humans who could minister to her needs, and the needs of her creation. We are the ones.”

This piece is dedicated to Fr Lawrence Andrew SJ, the long-serving editor of the HERALD who retired recently. I will always be grateful for his guidance and support over the years and wish him a happy retirement.

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