Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’- Luke 18:10-13
We go to “Cracolândia” once a week. I don’t think I can ever get used to this place. Each time I go there I am more aware of the filth and hopelessness that abounds there. I cannot get used to seeing people covered with dirt and completely oblivious to life. They hold to one thing that matters to them which is their tiny rocks of crack cocaine. Today, we met a young woman who had suffered a miscarriage and was bleeding as a result of this. Yet she refused to go to the doctors because she wanted to smoke more crack. There was another young girl who had part of her intestine exposed from a previous surgery. She had lost the plastic bag that was protecting her intestine. She was in grave danger but she refused any help. She was too high to recognize her dangerous condition. People were sleeping where they went to the bathroom. No one in their right mind would want to be here. It seems like drugs have made them abandon their humanity. However, it was not just drugs, it was something else. Something had made them give up on everything. Something convinced them that they did not need anything but crack cocaine. Something made them give up their humanity. These are people who have lost something valuable and now they lose themselves in drugs. They don’t know if they can ever find their way back.
It is not hard to think that we will never be like these people. It is not hard to create a barrier between us and them. It is easy to understand why the Pharisee in the parable prayed like he did. The Pharisee was right about what he said of himself. He was different from the tax collector. We are different from the drug addicts. I think it is unrealistic to say that any one of us could be a drug addict in Cracolândia. Most of us are beyond that stage. It is more realistic to say that most of us could be like the Pharisee.
The reality is that we are better off than the people in Cracolândia. Well, let me say that I know that I am better off than the people who live there. If I wasn’t, then I should not be here. When we serve the poor or visit the prisoners or minister to the sick, we do it because we are better off than those to whom we minister. Maybe saying “better off” sounds arrogant and uncharitable; well, we could say that we have more than those whom we serve. This is the reality. It is not necessarily fair. There is no reason why I was given more in this life than those who lost in the midst of drugs and sickness. Some might say it is because sin and this is what the Pharisee would say. Even then there is unfairness in this; some people appear to suffer the consequences of sin more harshly than others. This is the brutal reality. Jesus reminds us of another aspect of reality which bears eternal consequences.
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”(Luke 12:48)
The Pharisee was not wrong about the things he said of himself but his failure was that he thought that having much is synonymous with being superior. Being great in the Kingdom of God is being a servant of all. We who have been given much cannot become servants unless we understand that our God is Love. Then we know how to use the much that is given to us. Only then having more is a blessing because it becomes an opportunity to share God’s love to those who don’t have much.
Much is given to us so that we can show the mercy and love of God to those who have almost nothing. The tax collector needed mercy but the one who had much was so consumed in himself that he misunderstood his privileged position.
We only understand our blessed state when we bless those who have nothing in this life.
Cracolândia is a disturbing place but for me, it is a place where everything I have transforms into wine. It is the place where the much that is given to me becomes a blessing to me, so that I can bring God’s hope and mercy to those who need it the most. This is a disturbing place but I am glad that I can be here. I am glad that God has given me the necessary tools to be here. Life makes sense for me here. I have been given much and now God wants me to use this to show His mercy and love to those who have nothing.