"Be Opened!"

It is not difficult to see what is in common about the following kinds of people mentioned in the readings in yesterday’s Mass:

the blind, the deaf, the lame, the mute (Isaiah 35:4-7)
the oppressed, the hungry, the prisoners, those who are bowed down, the strangers, the fatherless, the widow (Psalms 146:7-10)
the poor man in dirty clothes (James 2:1-5)
the one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty (Mark 7:31-37)

Clearly, these are the people who are disadvantaged, the people who are less fortunate than us. There are different angles from which to reflect on these Bible passages.

Firstly, we should avoid having an “attitude of favouritism” (James 2:1) where we pay special attention to those in fine clothes and look down upon the poor. We should perform acts of kindness to them and pray for them, as when the people brought the one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty to Jesus and “implored Him to lay His hand on him” (Mark 7:32).

Secondly, if we are facing difficulties in life, like the people mentioned, we should have faith in God, “take courage, fear not” (Isaiah 35:4), for “did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” (James 2:5)

Thirdly, it is likely that we ourselves are the ones who are blind, deaf, lame and mute – blind and deaf to God’s words and other people’s needs, and unable to speak about and act on them. For example, Jeffrey Sachs, in his book “The End of Poverty”, talks about how the plight of the poor people lies in their inability to get out of the “poverty trap”. The circumstances under which they live is such that however hard they work, there is no chance for them to improve their living condition. What is shameful about Hong Kong is that, while the poverty trap typically exists in regions which are geographically disadvantaged, such as countries which are landlocked or remote, in Hong Kong that is not the case at all. The cause of the poverty trap in this self-professed “Asia’s World City” is exploitation. The political system of oligarchy here enables the rich to take as much advantage of the poor as they like, to the extent that the unskilled workers are left with no chance because of the meagre income and high cost of living. Many of them, while not entitled to public housing, can only afford to rent a 4x6 square feet bed space – very often not for just one person but for a small family. And if you think such a small cubicle is cheap, think again. The rent is HKD1,000 (about USD125), easily 20-25% of the resident’s monthly income.

That was exactly the situation of the family depicted in Episode 3 of the reality show I mentioned on 22 August. In this episode, shown on TV last Saturday, a rich and glamorous young woman was arranged to live with an immigrant mother and her child in such a bed space for five days. What a sick society this is, which has a GDP of over USD30,000 but which also has families whose entire world is the lower bunk of a bunk bed where they eat, sleep, watch TV and study. We should not be blind, deaf, lame and mute to social injustice like this. What Jesus told the one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty in Mark 7 also applies to us. Jesus looked up to heaven and had a deep sigh, then said: “Be opened!”

May we also open not only our eyes and ears but also our heart to the plight of our brothers and sisters who are trapped by poverty.

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