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All human beings are precious. Each of us possesses an inestimable value that we refer to as our human dignity. We are sacred and deserve respect because we are human and loved by God, not because we are useful, law-abiding, belong to a particular race and religion, or contribute economically. We can see this in the Gospel story of Jesus blessing children:

Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ Matthew 9:13-14

Jesus’ disciples see the children as obstacles, someone to be kept out of the way. But Jesus sees the children as persons, each loved by God and each with something to teach us. So he welcomes them and blesses each of them. He looks into their faces and sees their innate holiness.

The dignity of each person means that it is never right to use human beings as if they are things – means to an end. Jesus’ attitude shows that. He would never have accepted, for example, that it was right to punish one innocent child in order to make other children behave themselves.

How can we justify Australia’s policy of deterring people from claiming protection in the light of Jesus’ words? As a nation, we harm innocent people by detaining them, pushing back their boats and transferring them to other impoverished nations. We pretend that the pain and diminishment of one group of people, including children, is a justifiable price to pay for sending a message to others. This policy dishonours the human dignity of people who seek protection and denies the truth of their humanity.

The question of how we should respond to strangers is the same as the one posed by the lawyer when he asks Jesus: ‘Who is my neighbour?’

Jesus answers with a story of a man his hearers despised – a Samaritan.

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Luke 10:30-34

Jesus asks, ‘Who proved himself a neighbour to the man?’ and the lawyer replies, unwilling to even name the Samaritan, ‘The one who took pity on him.’ The one who is neighbour is the one who acted because he was moved by compassion.

Australian Catholic Social Justice Council

Ordinary Time 26th Sunday 270915

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