But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.- Matthew 5:22
The above gospel verse was taken from the context of a discussion on the subject of murder. Jesus likens calling someone “a fool” or “raca” (which means useless or worthless) to murder. When it used as an insult, both terms imply that the person is not worth our time and energy or our compassion. Consequently, we would not care if anything happens to them or rather they cease to be considered human beings to us. If we understand murder as robbing someone of their humanity, then words are also capable of depriving someone of their humanity.
We have heard many times people say that the poor are poor because they are plain lazy. Sometimes people make the distinction by saying that there are the deserving poor and there are some who are just plain lazy. By this, they imply that these lazy poor are not worthy of compassion or mercy. In some cases, they would even consider it wrong to help the so-called lazy poor.
The paradox is that saying that the poor are lazy is actually a lazy way to identify the problem. If we are serious about being instruments of the gospel, then we should refrain from using unhelpful terms that rob people of their humanity. Calling someone lazy does not redeem anyone’s humanity and the gospel is about redemption.
No one wants to be lazy. It is in our nature to work if it helps us to get what we want in life. The incentive to work depends on whether we are motivated. Instead of calling people lazy, we should discover why aren’t people motivated to work. I am sure that sociologists or economists could come up with plethora of reasons why people aren’t motivated. We do not approach the problem from their perspective. We do it from the midst of teens and adults in homeless situations. We ask ourselves why is it hard for them to seek employment? They don’t have any motivation to work. We believe our motivation to work stems from relationships. When we believe that what we are doing is going to strengthen and secure our relationship with our family and friends, then we are motivated. Sometimes people put up with tedious and mundane work just to sustain their family. However, it is difficult to be motivated if you don’t have friends or family.
Igor is 19 years old. He has been living in the streets since he was eight. His father died when he was three and his mother was murdered when he was seven. From the tender age of eight, Igor has used drugs and lived without any adult supervision. He was detained in juvenile centers for most of his teenage years. His only experience with a disciplined life was under the threat of physical abuse in the juvenile center. When he left the juvenile center at the age of 18, he made a conscious decision not to be involved with crime or drugs.
A few weeks ago, Igor found a job. It was with a cleaning service. Unfortunately, he only worked for a week at this place before quitting. He did not find the work to be hard. He did not mind the work. Even though the pay wasn’t great, he did not mind the low salary. He quit because he found it hard to keep a regular routine. He sleeps in the streets and has no alarm clock. Besides, he is not accustomed to keeping appointments and relating to bosses and authority figures. He was afraid that he was going to fail and therefore, he quit before he got fired. We asked him if he was ever late for his work. He told us that he made sure that he was punctual for the whole week, but he knew that it wasn’t going to last. Igor quit because he was afraid that he was going to fail.
We asked him if he wanted our help in keeping a routine. He responded that he did not even know what this meant. His answer made us pause for a while. We realized that simple things such as keeping a routine and fulfilling a commitment are things that we learn in the environment of a family. These things are nurtured in us through the living examples of our parents or parental figure. We were gradually taught explicitly and implicitly to honor our responsibilities. Perhaps we were given the chance to fail and given several chances to learn the value of commitment. All these can be taught in an environment of love and forgiveness. Igor never grew up in such an environment.
Igor is legally considered an adult. However, his social skills are limited and he knows it. For him, it is frightening to make the transition from living in the streets to working in a 9 to 5 job. He is paralyzed by fear. Fear stops him from working. However, in the eyes of the world, he is just another lazy homeless teen. On the other hand, the message of gospel compels us to see beyond the superficial. Igor needs a family to help him overcome his fear of failure. He cannot do this unless he knows that there will be grace and forgiveness.
Igor does not have all his personal documents yet. We offered to help him apply for them. He accepted our help. We made an appointment for him and asked him to meet us at the office where these documents are issued. When we got to this building, Igor was waiting there for us. He got there fifteen minutes early. He was afraid that he was going to be late. We needed to pay for the processing fee and he vehemently refused our money. He wanted to earn the money by doing some odd jobs. Finally we convinced him to allow us to pay for it for now and he can repay us when he has a job. He reluctantly agreed. We managed to get his documents without any hassle. Before we left the place, Igor hugged us and told us that he was going to apply for another job this week. The fear is still present, but he seemed a little bit more confident. We hope that Igor will find some strength through his friendship with us to overcome his fears.