One person at a time

Pentecost 19 – 2016

Luke 16:19-31 (Some thoughts)

Marian Free


In the name of God, who asks us to join with God in creating a world in which all have access to the resources that will allow them to live a full and happy life. Amen.

Thanks to modern media and the speed of the internet, few of us can avoid being bombarded by graphic images and descriptions of the plight of refugees, victims of war and natural disaster, women whose babies lie dying beside them, children who have been forced to become soldiers, men forced into dangerous and often demeaning labor just to feed themselves and their dependents. In the past week some of us will have seen the appalling pictures of Holocaust victims living in squalor in Poland because they are too afraid to repeat the trauma of forced resettlement and there are not sufficient funds to provide the home support and nursing care that would give them a dignified and comfortable old age and death.

A consequence of this level of exposure is that many of us suffer from compassion fatigue – there is only so much suffering we can absorb. Alternatively we are overtaken by feelings of helplessness – in the face of so much despair we wonder what can we do to make a real and lasting difference. Photos of a child washed up on a beach or of a vulture waiting for a child to die fill us with anguish, but it is impossible to work out what one person can do to stop the fighting in Syria, to provide relief to those living in drought stricken Sudan.

The number of aid agencies and the worry that a large percentage of donations are spent on administration further complicates the issue. Sometimes it seems that the solution is to do nothing and hope that world leaders will somehow work out solutions to war, terror, poverty and natural disaster.

In the meantime suffering and disadvantage continue not only on the world stage, but also on our own doorsteps. On Wednesday I had the privilege of hearing Debbie Kilroy – the founder and executive director of Sisters Inside – deliver the United Nations Brisbane Peace Lecture. Debbie’s own experience of prison made her a powerful, passionate and informed speaker. She reminded us that, though Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander women make up only 3% of our population, they make up more than 50% of the prison population. Most come from situations of extreme disadvantage and enter the criminal system from a very young age. Once they have come to the attention of the law, they find it difficult to access the support that would ensure that they escape the cycle of poverty, violence and abuse that has brought them to their present situation.

Sisters Inside “has an enormous range of programmes that support women get through every conceivable barrier that the world throws at them, and to tell them that they’re worth it, they’re good, and we love them. They have programmes that include: housing support, sexual and DV & FV counseling, reunification of mothers and children, mental health support and life skills, youth work and pre and post release support”[1].

Obviously Sisters Inside does amazing work, but Debbie’s challenge to the audience was not: “go and help an ex-prisoner rehabilitate”, “donate to Sisters Inside” or “become a volunteer” but “find someone in your neighbourhood who is marginalised and disadvantaged and walk beside them”.

In so doing, Debbie made solving the problem manageable, achievable.

No one can solve all the problems of the world, but we can change the world around us by making a difference in the life of just one person.

The parable about Lazarus and the rich man is often seen and used as a critique of wealth, but if you break it down it is a reflection on just two men – Lazarus and a certain man who is rich. It is impossible to imagine that the rich man is oblivious to the plight of Lazarus. Apart from anything else, when he is in Hades the rich man recognises Lazarus and calls him by name. The rich man knows exactly who Lazarus is yet during his life he has done nothing to alleviate Lazarus’ distress.

In life as in death, a great gulf existed between the two men and the one who was in a position to do something did nothing. The parable gives us no hint that there was an expectation that the rich man should have solved all the problems in the world or even that he should have given away all his wealth. There was one person in his life whose plight he could have alleviated and he chose to ignore his responsibility of care.

Unfortunately we can’t solve all the problems in the world, but we can ease the burdens of at least one person in our life or in our neighbourhood. We can, in the course of our lives, make a difference in the lives of many, if we take action where we see it is needed and if we only bite off as much as we can chew.

So stop wasting time worrying about what you can’t do and start thinking about what you can do. Open your eyes to the people around your and in front of you. Build bridges across the gulf that separates you from the marginalised, the disadvantaged and the excluded. Stand beside one person in solidarity and support and start changing the world one person at a time.





[1] Check out the website:


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