Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Human Relationships: Are "Scraps From the Table" Enough?

The basis of human relationships is the fact of being persons and "being-together." When we forget or seek to evade this foundation, the things we try to do to help others remain shallow and don't reach their most crucial and essential needs.

Indeed, they don't do justice to their humanity.

Not that our "actions" and efforts to meet people's needs are not important, but their specific human value is founded on "presence" and expresses presence.

If we're not (in some way) trying to care for the whole scope and depth of people's needs, to enrich their lives, to help them grow as persons, to defend their rights, and to seek ways to rectify the injustice and oppression that hold them down, we are clearly not "present" with them in an appropriate, meaningful human relationship.

We are not "together-with-them" in solidarity if we don't do what we can to help them in an integral fashion. For Christians, it's always useful to refresh the memory on this point by revisiting epistle of James (see e.g. 2:14-16: "if you see a brother or sister in need, etc...")

External actions in service to our neighbor, when they are possible within the circumstances of a relationship, are a necessary expression of interpersonal communion. They are not, however, sufficient in their material and perceivable form for the constitution of the relationship itself.

Let us consider how this applies in broad terms of human societal relations, keeping in mind that the same dynamic applies analogously to relationships, responsibilities, and needs of every kind.

Thus we know that we can address the needs of hungry people by feeding them and housing them. But we must do so in a human way. Circumstances may require that emergency priority be given to addressing the most proximate physical needs of people in desperation, and at first it may only be possible to give them the basic care necessary for protection and sustenance.

But we must not allow our concern to drift after a crisis is met, lest the marginal and precarious status of people in need becomes a long term, diminished condition of life. We must feed them, but we cannot be satisfied with this alone, with the fact that the people at the gates of our cities are not dying of hunger. The immediate physical needs of human beings are inextricably bound up with more profound exigencies proper to their value as bodily and spiritual persons.

Consider that we can also "address the needs" of chickens by feeding them and providing appropriately spacious, safe, dry shelter. (And let us note that all God's creatures have a proper value and dignity and deserve the respect due to them.)

We do not, however, have interpersonal relationships with chickens.

There are fundamental differences between persons and non-personal creatures that are evident by the way societies throughout history have considered them.

Though there is clearly something that can be (and was meant to be in God's original plan for creation) beautiful and mysterious in the interaction and even collaboration between humans and animals, it does not constitute interpersonal communion (this is a truth that Genesis 2 teaches us).

The care we consider sufficient and benevolent for chickens and even pets would be considered criminal and dehumanizing as a standard of care for humans.

People from impoverished or war-ravaged countries, who are forced to prioritize their basic needs of physical survival, have said about first-worlders: "Their dogs live better than we do!"

This is a provocation and a cry against injustice. These people do not mean to imply that their lives would be adequate and their humanity respected if they were just treated like European or American dogs.

In Jesus's relevant parable on this point (Like 16:19-31), we see that the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the rich man's table. Lazarus longs just to be able to eat those scraps as he lies starving by the gate. And though the scraps would have been better than nothing, it would hardly have been sufficient if the rich man had decided to have his servants toss some scraps at Lazarus when the meal was over.

Lazarus was his neighbor. He was a person. Our needy neighbors are persons. They need more than food. They need "not to be alone." They need relationships and communion. They need love.

...to be continued...

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