VALUE OF A HUMAN LIFE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [AMOS 5:14-15, 21-24; MT 8:28-34]
People all over the world today speak of human rights, the right to life, the right to free speech, the right to freedom. Those championing these causes seem to be very noble. They ask for the removal of the death penalty for crimes involving killing. They ask for freedom of speech to articulate one’s mind. They ask for freedom to do whatever they like. However, the world is hypocritical. They act the way the demons reacted to Jesus. They shouted, “What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the time?” They knew that Jesus was the Son of God; they knew that the time of judgement would come and they would be in hell forever. Yet, knowing the truth about Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, they did not believe in Him. For all the noise they make about human rights, it is not about true freedom and respect for life. The promotion of euthanasia goes beyond protecting those who are suffering terminal illness but those whose lives can no longer contribute to the economy.
There is a lack of consistency in what the world wants. They are not serious about the dignity of every human life. On one hand, they speak of the value of every human life; yet, they also promote abortion even at birth, the destruction of human embryos, and euthanasia as mercy killing. Otherwise they will be seeking to defend life as the Church does, from conception until death. They condemn the death penalty, but they will use advanced technological weapons to assassinate, to kill those they judge to be their enemies. They will use their whole armory to destroy those that they feel are a threat to their security. If we are really concerned about the dignity of human life, then these same people who champion the removal of the death penalty must also tell their governments to spend less on arms and use those billions of dollars on the many poor people dying and starving all over the world. Is the life of the poor less precious than those of criminals? When the Church asks for the removal of the death penalty, she bases it on the inviolable and eternal value of every human life, regardless whether it is an unborn baby, the poor, the sick or the criminal or anyone in the world.
Is the world serious about freedom? Again, the world pays lip service to freedom. Everyone knows that there is no absolute freedom in this world. The freedom of the individual cannot delimit the freedom of others, especially that of the community. What the world is promoting is an abuse of freedom, which itself is a form of slavery to one’s passions and desires. Freedom for the world means to say whatever we want, even at the expense of destroying a person’s reputation through lies, and transmitting fake news that divide people and glorify violence. Freedom of speech means we can abuse the dignity of others with vulgar speech. Freedom means the person is allowed to destroy marriages, hurt their spouse and their children. Freedom means we can promote pornography and promiscuity, and destroy lasting and true love in humanity. Freedom means taking and selling drugs that destroy the lives of people, their loved ones and society. If you disagree with the ideology of relativism, they will discriminate us. This is slavery to one’s passion, not freedom. This is chaos, not freedom.
In the gospel, Jesus came for the individual. He came to set everyone free from the Evil One. We read, “When Jesus reached the country of the Gadarenes on the other side of the lake, two demoniacs came towards him out of the tombs – creatures so fierce that no one could pass that way.” How many of us would be bothered with possessed people? We would prefer to leave them alone, stay away from them lest they harm us. We would just let them suffer and rot than to reach out to them. Who would be concerned to deliver the person under the bondage of the evil spirits? Furthermore, who would want to go to the graveyard where spirits lurk? This was why the two demoniacs were left alone to suffer under the evil spirits, tormented by them and thus was in great pain. Their lives were unimportant.
For Jesus, every life was important to Him, including those who were non-Jews. He was in a pagan territory. It would be considered taboo for Him to visit a cemetery and be made ritually unclean, or even to reach out to the Gentiles. Nevertheless, Jesus did not ignore the suffering of the two demoniacs. He went head-on to confront the demons because He wanted to free the two demoniacs. He was even merciful to the demons who pleaded with the Lord, “If you cast us out, send us into the herd of pigs.” “And he said to them, ‘Go then,’ and they came out and made for the pigs; and at that the whole herd charged down the cliff and into the lake and perished in the water.” By allowing this to take place, Jesus placed the value of these two lives more than all the pigs that were drowned as they fell from the cliff into the waters. In the mind of Jesus, no human life can be compared to any animal. There is no price for a human life, whether the person is a criminal, poor, or physically or mentally challenged because human life is created in the image of God and every soul is immortal. Every life is precious and every human person is equal before God.
However, we look at the reaction of those who had vested interests in the pigs. “The swineherds ran off and made for the town, where they told the whole story, including what had happened to the demoniacs. As soon as they saw him they implored him to leave the neighbourhood.” In contrast to our Lord, they placed the economic value of the pigs over the intrinsic value of the human person. It was about money and profits. The human person is irrelevant unless that person can contribute to the economy. As far as they were concerned, the two demoniacs were useless. They had no value at all. The pigs were more important because of their economic value. But this is precisely how the world acts. It places profits in business and the price of their crops and products over the hunger of the world.
Is not this the way the world also regard the human person, based on his economic value, productivity and usefulness? For all the noise they make about human rights, it is not about true freedom and respect for life. The promotion of euthanasia goes beyond protecting those who are suffering terminal illness but those whose lives can no longer contribute to the economy. So those who are depressed, unable to work, those who are mentally or physically challenged, unable to contribute to the workforce, and those who are elderly and unproductive should die so that others can live. Embryos are destroyed in IVF and other scientific experiments so that one among the many can live. Indeed, if one can no longer be productive or useful, the subtle implication is that we must die, otherwise we will be regarded as selfish. By our continued existence, we take up the energy and time of others who could be more productive in other areas of life. Where is the intrinsic value of the human person? It is hypocrisy. The world chooses what they like without consistency.
This was what Amos charged his people with as well. They were corrupt, involved in cheating and bribery, unjust judgements and exploiting the poor. They were doing things against their fellowmen. The rich were making use of the poor and the powerful, exploiting the weak and vulnerable. And yet, they sought to cover up their crimes and contradiction by going to the Temple to offer worship and sacrifices. The Lord said, “I hate and despise your feasts, I take no pleasure in your solemn festivals. When you offer me holocausts, I reject your oblations, and refuse to look at your sacrifices of fattened cattle. But let justice flow like water, and integrity like an unfailing stream.” God does not desire all these external forms of worship unless our worship comes from a heart of integrity and love. We can be going to Church and be involved in ministry, but we lack integrity and charity.
The words of Amos should inspire us to be consistent in giving glory to God by living a good and just life. He said, “Seek good and not evil so that you may live, and that the Lord, God of hosts, may really be with you as you claim he is. Hate evil, love good, maintain justice at the city gate, and it may be that the Lord, God of hosts, will take pity on the remnant of Joseph.” If we do good and live upright lives, not only will our offerings, but our whole life, will be pleasing to God and bring blessings upon us and our fellowmen.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
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- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
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