On many occasions I’ve heard people respond to images of suffering and injustice by saying something like, “Seeing that makes me so thankful for what I have.”
That reaction really bothers me. Should our first response to the image of a naked hungry child, or a homeless man, be one of gratitude? Should our response when confronted with people despairing from abject poverty be to give thanks for the mountains of food we overeat and for our oversized luxurious houses stuffed with junk we don’t need?
It seems that our reaction to seeing our brothers and sisters who have absolutely nothing, is often to tighten our grip on the stuff we chose to buy and keep for ourselves, rather than give to help meet their needs.
I wonder if exposure to injustice and suffering should inspire us to fight it, rather than to retreat to the safety of our abundance. I wonder if instead of reacting with “Seeing that makes me thankful for what I have,” our reaction should be “Seeing that makes me ashamed of what I have.”
I wonder if we shouldn’t reflect on the words of St. John Chrysotom from about 1600 years ago:
You should think the same way about those who are rich and greedy. They are a kind of robbers lying in wait on the roads, stealing from passers-by, and burying others’ goods in their own houses as if in caves and holes. Let us not therefore call them fortunate because of what they have, but miserable because of what will come, because of the dreadful courtroom, because of the inexorable judgment, because of the outer darkness which awaits them….Collecting these thoughts in your minds, therefore, my beloved, let us call fortunate not the wealthy but the virtuous: let us call miserable not the poor but the wicked.