Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. -Philippians 2:5-8
There were boxes everywhere. Our one-bedroom apartment looked even smaller than before and at the same time we were amazed how much stuff we managed to pack away in this tiny space. We were far from finished and would move in two days. Our new home is a two bedroom apartment within the same neighborhood. The past few days we have been walking back and forth making sure that everything was ready for our big move. Consequently, our visits with the children have been less frequent. We were anxious to return our normal schedule. We miss giving our fullest attention to our children. There is a sense of emptiness in our souls whenever we are away from them.
I was also a little concerned for Igor. Ever since his departure from the streets, he has been living in a neighborhood about two hours away from where we are located. He has maintained contact with us through infrequent visits to our home. Now, we had no way of letting him know our change of address. We definitely did not want to lose our connection with Igor. Unfortunately, all the preparation for the move left us exhausted and we did not have the energy to find ways of getting in touch with Igor. After packing and organizing for hours, we were ready for a quiet and restful night. Then the buzzer rang and Igor was downstairs.
He was not alone. There was a young man with him. Both of the were dressed in a suit and dress shirt. Igor did not look anything like the person in the streets three years ago. Igor’s friend, Mateus, was covered with tattoos which his long-sleeve shirt wasn’t able to hide completely. Some of them were gang-related. His face looked familiar but at first instance I wasn’t able to recollect where I have met him. The boys navigated through the boxes to find a place to sit. Mateus, noticing our accents, started asking a barrage of questions about us and our background. He was like a little child with his sense of wonder. Then it hit me. I had seen him in one of my visits to the juvenile reform center. We had never spoken before but I remembered on that occasion he smiled longingly at us hoping to have some sort of connection. The juvenile centers have strict rules. We are only allowed to have interactions with the one we were visiting. For some reason, Mateus caught my attention then. I don’t know exactly why but his face and demeanor stayed with me. I remember commenting to Mary that this young man had all the outward expressions of a hardened criminal but his eyes and gestures revealed that his innocence was intact. He was detained for trafficking drugs but, despite his criminal involvement, his soul was not tainted or closed to God. It was this same characteristic trait that triggered my memory. When I told him that remembered him from that singular visit to the juvenile center, his face lit up. This was about more than two years ago. It was clear to see that he was happy that he left an impression in me. Mateus was incarcerated till he turned 19. He is 21 now. He wants to experience a different life. This was why they were in my living room.
It was joyful and heartbreaking to listen to these two young men. They had spent past few days looking for work. They were desperate and willing to do anything. They were open to be cleaners, road sweepers, construction workers…anything. They are living together with Mateus’ brother. Like Mateus, he was also once involved in the drug trade but he wants to change his lifestyle. Their present goal is very simple. They want to earn enough to pay for food and shelter. They are attending a church in their neighborhood. They have made their new-found faith as the foundation and strength for them to take a bold step towards change. They were in my apartment to ask for our assistance. They wanted to know if we knew someone who would give them a job. These boys have never had a job before. They did not where or how to start. They never had any adults in their lives to help them.
Things are extremely hard now. The economy has been stagnant for years. Besides, it has never been easy for the poorest of the poor. Steady employment among the poor is a dream that a few are able to realize. Most survive by doing odd jobs here and there. The pay is miserable but many are able to survive on it. It is going to be challenge for them to find something stable. Unfortunately, I did not have any contacts. Even if we did, there is no guarantee that it would ensure them any employment. They don’t have any skills yet. They are open and willing to do some training. This might be helpful for the future but for now they need income for the basics. There were no easy answers for them. The only thing that we could offer them was to walk with them and help them think about planning their goals to achieve the things they want. I felt that this offer was weak and deficient in the face of their struggles. We said a short prayer together.
I expected these two earnest young men to be little disappointed. They needed some concrete help and we had nothing to offer them. I was feeling disappointed and a little inadequate myself. Then Mateus surprised us. He said that they were grateful that we treated them as equals. Initially I was a little confused by this statement. These young men are facing eviction from a tiny shack in a slum. They don’t have any money for food. They are no idea whether they might find a job soon. We, on the other hand, are moving to a bigger apartment. We have more things than we need in our living room packed in boxes. Materially speaking, we are better off than them. However, Mateus and Igor were able to overlook the material and financial differences between us and discover equality with us. Our relationship made the transition from “we” and “them” to “us”.
They came looking for us to help them find employment. Our vulnerability or lack of ability to fulfill this role helped us become one with them. They saw that we were not some superheroes that solve problems at the drop of a hat. We were just as limited in what we can do just as they were. They had spent the whole day looking for work and being rejected by every business that they approached. Feelings of inferiority must have been rampant in their souls. Sitting in the living room and listening to us say that we have no power to solve their problem helped them in some way regain their humanity. Sometimes we think that we have to solve all the problems of those who come to us for help. However, not being able to do anything can also be helpful and powerful. We did not have the resources to help them but we wanted to be with them. They wanted to come to a place where they can feel like human beings with dignity. Unbeknownst to us, being in our home has helped them regain their dignity as human beings. This is not just our interpretation. Igor clarified this to us. He told us that when we opened our home to him for the first time, he felt that we made a special transition in our relationship. It was no longer a relationship of “We” and “Them” but we are now “us”. Being unable to supply all the answers in a strange way helped us see this even clearer.
Jesus emptied Himself of all Godhood so that He could become a servant. For some pragmatic minds, it would have been more advantageous if Jesus came to us with all His divine power and solved the problems of the world. The gospels tell us that multitudes followed Jesus to see and experience some of his supernatural feats. Many believed in Jesus so that they could have access to some divine power in their lives. Jesus did heal and perform miracles. I believe that the miracles of Jesus were not an essential element of his ministry. I know that some may disagree with me here and this is fine. We don’t have agree on everything. The miracles are not the gospel. Jesus is the gospel. He came to make the transition from “We” and “God” to “God with us”. The good news is God become One with us. The moment when this happened in its fullness was at the Cross. Jesus chose to be vulnerable like us. He chose to be like those who suffer indignity and endure humiliation to the point where they doubt their humanity. Jesus chose to forego His right as God in order to identify with these people. For them, Jesus who is One with Them brings much more consolation than Jesus the super-hero who overcomes all His enemies with the sword. This participation in the vulnerability and suffering of humanity brought back dignity and hope to those who face this on a daily basis.
If we had endless resources, perhaps we could give Igor and Mateus a job. There is no guarantee that the work we might be able to provide for them would bring joy and hope to them. It would not necessarily restore any dignity to them. Perhaps it could even be an obstacle between us and them. Most likely they would not consider us as one with them. Instead, they would think of us those people who could have everything at a snap of our fingers. Thanks be to God that He did not give us these resources. Instead, we have the resources to be their friend and family in their struggles. They just wanted to be in a place where they could feel like valued people. God has given us the resource for this. This is the gospel where God becomes One with Us. St Paul tells us that we should follow in the footsteps of this God and Savior.