Last week I went to the funeral of a Christian man who died from AIDS. During the last few weeks of Uncle Phong’s life, his unbelieving children refused to take him into the hospital in town. They also refused to let anyone else take him to the hospital. The shame and stigma of AIDS is so huge that they outright refused to take him to the hospital so he could get some care and relief from pain. Was mercy withheld?
In a not so distant country, in a time very much present, another situation of mercy withheld is currently taking place. Again, it’s complicated. Again, there is outright refusal. Again, there is death involved. This time on a much much larger scale.
Shame and loss of face is huge in Asian societies. But to what end?
I look at Uncle Phong’s situation and I find it difficult to understand how his children could be so cruel as to not allow him to go to the hospital. Why would they let their father suffer in such pain in his remaining weeks? Why couldn’t they humble their hearts enough to carry that stigma of AIDS in their family? Their father died. He died of AIDS. They lived in a village, where everyone knows everything about everyone else and it was known he had AIDS. And yet they couldn’t bring themselves to accept that and accept him and care for him as if he was their father dying from old age instead of what he really died from.
In this not so distant country, in this very much present time, hundreds of thousands of people are dead or dying and the situation grows more grim with each passing hour. Selfishness and shame of the higher-ups stand in the way between the people in need and all the aid that would help them survive. Those in power make outright refusals left and right and try to pretend like everything’s under control. They don’t need help. Nothing’s wrong. Relief phase over. Reconstruction phase begins. My questions are the same as in Uncle Phong’s case. Why?
In the West people take pride in themselves. They’re self-righteous. They are their own idols. They are their own saviours. They don’t like to ask for help or be corrected but they like to give correction. Westerners take pride in individualism and being reliant on no one but themselves. Closed in, boxed up and yet in everyone’s face and dirty laundry. What is the West in risk of? In what ways is mercy withheld there? In what ways do they need to be humbled?
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14)