Sometimes, we can expect the faith to provide nice, easy answers to all our questions. And in some situations, the faith does provide clear answers. But other times, the faith raises questions that need to be wrestled with. Far from providing easy answers, sometimes the faith gives us more questions. For example, according to our responsorial Psalm today, “the LORD hears the poor.” Our first reading says “he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!” And all of that sounds really good, but when we look out into the world, it should cause us to ask questions. What about the 115,000 unborn children worldwide who will be killed today? What about the millions of men, women, and children living in slavery and human trafficking? What about all of those who suffer each day from lack of food, clean water, healthcare, and housing? When we look out at the world, the poor seem pretty miserable and forgotten. And yet the Scripture claims that God hears the poor and rescues them. What’s the deal?
This is the kind of question for which it is tempting to give a cliché answer. We can try to placate ourselves with platitudes. We can say, “Of course the Lord hears the poor, we just have to trust more. God’s ways aren’t our ways. We just can’t see the big picture.” Those answers sound nice and pious. But they are empty. They simply push the question aside. Imagine walking up to a child who has been kidnapped and sold into human trafficking and saying, “You just have to trust God more. His ways are not our ways.” It sounds pretty hollow, right? This is one of those cases where the faith does not provide us with easy answers. When we look at the plight of the poor and the downtrodden in the world and ask why it seems like God doesn’t help them, we will find no easy answers, because we are not asking an easy question.
When we encounter these difficult questions in the faith, there is the temptation to decide that because there is no easy answer, there is no answer at all. Many people have walked away from God because there was some question that they couldn’t find an easy answer to and so they concluded that there was no answer. But that is not the right way to approach the faith. God never promises us simple answers to all of our questions. The faith is not an escape from having to wrestle with the hard questions in life. Other people encounter the difficult questions, but retreat back to the cliché answers. They know that the simple answers don’t actually work, but they just sort of bury their head in the sand and pretend like all the pieces fit. That is not a good way to approach the faith as well.
So how do we reconcile the readings today, which speak of God’s concern and care for the poor, with the fact that so many people in the world suffer in poverty and hardship seemingly without end or aid? Does God not care about them? As I prayed about these questions, I began to see that in the question is the start of the answer. When we see a problem in the world and cry to God, “Why don’t you do something about this,” I think that God replies to us with the same question, “Why don’t you do something about this?” God does care for those who are poor and in need, for those who are denied basic human rights and the bare necessities of life. He cares so much that He inspires us to do something to help them. Today’s Gospel takes place right before Jesus sent the Apostles out for the first time. He is sending them out to be His co-workers in the world. And the Lord sends us as well. Being a Christian is not a spectator sport; to follow Christ means to allow Him to send us into the world to do His work. And part of that work is caring for our brothers and sisters. When we ask God, “Why don’t you do something to help this person,” He replies, “I have done something; I have given you the grace to go out and help that person.”
Unfortunately, how often do we see someone in need, whether something we read about in the paper or see on the news or a person we encounter in our daily lives, and we think, “Wow, that is just awful,” but then we do nothing? How often do we fail to carry on the work of the Lord as His disciples? We see people who are starving, and we expect God to make food appear out of thin air for them, but meanwhile we waste food. We hear about people whose lives are threatened and torn apart by war and violence, and we tell God to do something to help them, but we stay comfortably safe and leave them to fend for themselves. The fact that so many needy people in the world go unaided is a censure on us as Christians. It is our responsibility to care for them in Christ’s name.
It is easy for any of us to look out at the problems of the world and feel overwhelmed. There are so many problems, and so many people in need, that we just throw our hands up. What can I possibly do? I can’t solve all the world’s problems. And that is true, you or I as individuals can’t solve all of the world’s ills. Individually, we will not feed every hungry person or care for every sick person. But we don’t have to do this just as individuals. There are over 1 billion Catholics in the world. None of us individually will be able to help everyone. But if we all did our own part, we could change the world. If we all set aside our excuses, stepped outside of our comfort zone, and overcame our fears, God could do amazing things through us. Three times in the Gospel today, the Lord tells the Apostles not to be afraid. He says the same to us. He has called us to be His disciples, to go out into the world and do His work at building the Kingdom of God. We are sent to proclaim the good news and be living images of the love of God. But to do that, we must overcome our fears. Fear keeps us from reaching out to those who are different from us and those in need. Fear stops us from sharing the Good News with others. Fear prevents us from being Christ’s disciples in the world. That is why the Lord tells His Apostles repeatedly, “Do not be afraid.”
And He says the same to us. Do not be afraid to share the love of God with others. When you see someone in need, do not be afraid to help them. Truly, God does hear the cry of the poor. The real question is, will we also hear their cry, and have the courage to let God work through us for them?