Today is Monday, May 21, 2018

Being A Brother's Keeper

by: J. Mar del Castillo

A beggar was yanking at a woman’s sleeve as she was passing by. To rid herself of the little boy, she gave him one peso and walked on. Disappointed at the amount he got, the little urchin cried, “Kuripot!”

The woman retorted, “Pulubi!”

Talk about a class clash!

Mendicants are everywhere. Whether one’s in a developed or in a developing country, the culture of poverty will always be there. There are different reactions when beggars come up to people. Some give alms out of sympathy, others simply want to turn a blind eye. Like the woman in the anecdote, others even retaliate to a beggar’s aggressiveness. Others justify their indifference by saying that these beggars are just phonies, working for a “syndicate.” Others even turn instant “social workers” telling these vagrants to look for a real job instead of begging. In the secular world we are in, helping the needy is not hard to understand, it is just hard to do.

I was likewise tested how I’d react to beggars. Surely the CA employees have noticed this family consisting of a father, a mother, two boy toddlers ages five and three and a baby girl five months old, all very dirty in tattered clothes, loitering and asking for alms from passersby along the sidewalk of Ma. Orosa Street outside the Court of Appeals’ gate. I too am aware of their existence and presence, but too preoccupied with my affairs, I would ignore them.

Last Monday, however, was a different story. As I was on my way to Max’s Restaurant to take lunch, I saw the same family. The toddlers were following each passerby, touching and tugging at their arms until the latter would cough up some money. As I went near where they were, I had the strong urge to do the same thing the way I had always done – cross the street and go the other way. But such feeling disturbed me. I realized that I was beginning to breed apathy. Like Cain, hardened and indifferent, I thought to myself: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

I approached the family and asked how they live. They literally survive in the bangketa for the past three years now, eating whatever food they can, from handouts they get, and money paid to them as “watch-your-car boys” in the area; they go to Luneta for a bath; try to sleep on the pavement covering it with a cardboard; urinate and defecate right there in the street gutter and flush down their refuse into a manhole; when it rains, they seek shelter under the awnings of nearby establishments.

Despite the plight and wretchedness fate has brought them, these fellow human beings have surprisingly managed to survive, thus reminding me of how blessed I am with numerous things, albeit superfluous.

Jesus was asked by a teacher, “ Who is my neighbor?” So he told the story about a Jew on his way to Jericho who was mugged by robbers and was left half-dead. A priest passed by and ignored him and crossed to the other side. A Levite, a man learned in the law, likewise did the same. Thereafter, a Samaritan saw the Jew and, despite the mutual antipathy between their races, his heart was filled with pity. He treated the Jew’s wounds, brought him to an inn, and left him to the innkeeper, telling the latter that he will repay him for the expenses necessary for taking care of the Jew. Jesus then asked the teacher, who in his opinion acted like a neighbor toward the Jew, to which the teacher replied, “The one who was kind to him.” Jesus said, “You go, then, and do the same.”

The parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that what is of importance is not the object of our compassion, but the virtue of compassion itself. While we mind our own business pursuing our respective careers and focusing on our concerns in life, there is, however, a loftier and nobler ambition – to stoop and lift up a struggling neighbor, whether he be a beggar or not.

The job of a Justice is not just using the ability to judge, but to judge fairly too. But after talking to the beggars who beg near the Court of Appeals, I learned that I am not just a Justice who renders decisions, I am someone’s neighbor too. I should do more, and not merely pontificate on human rights in accordance with international conventions. I too need to advocate and implement this right.

No matter what our standing in life is, we are all human beings responsible in using our blessings of wealth, resources, and abilities. We are after all, mere beggars in the eyes of God. Should we not then consider it “payback time” when He commands us: “Love your neighbor as you would love yourself”?

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