Beneath our radiant Southern Cross,
We’ll toil with hearts and hands
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands.
For those who’ve come across the seas,
We’ve boundless plains to share.
With courage let us all combine
To advance Australia fair.
(Our National Anthem, Verse 2)
The nature of politics these past few years, especially that practiced by the two main parties, reminds one of a bitter marriage struggle – one destined for the courts. So consumed have ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ been by their anger, by their need for revenge, and by their need to win at all costs, they’ve forgotten the ‘children’.
This toxic process, and breakdown of civility, leaves little room for those who cannot compete. So the children get pushed aside as the bickering gets louder, as pettiness replaces depth, and as power and fear leave love and compassion in their wake.
This appears particularly pertinent in regard to those seeking asylum – especially children. Too often their voices are drowned-out by the self-centered tantrums and fear-mongering of our political parents.
Such leadership is disappointing because it undermines sensible and reasoned public discourse. We become wedged by emotive opposites: It’s left versus right, bleeding hearts v cold hearts, queue-jumpers versus the desperate, “stop the boats” v ”let them come”.
Beneath this canopy of emotion and fear, people tend to become more tribal than usual – more susceptible to propaganda as well. Thus, when we are told that our borders and lifestyle are threatened; our natural response is to build a wall to keep the ‘enemy’ out. Before we know it, we find ourselves living in a sort of gated community: one that covets security, prosperity and the status quo. And anyone who threatens this way of life, “this tribe of mine”, is either refused entry or banished.
There was a Lucky Country that enjoyed freedom and prosperity, and lived in luxury every day. At its doorstep arrived a fearful beggar; hungry and frightened after a long journey; covered with sores, and longing to eat what fell from the Lucky Country’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The Lucky Country also lost its life and was buried.
In its torment, it looked up and saw Abraham far away with the beggar by his side. The Lucky Country called out to Abraham, ‘Father, have pity on me and send the beggar to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this torment.’
But Abraham replied, ‘Remember, in your lifetime you received many good things: freedom, prosperity, comfort; while this poor beggar received bad things: political oppression, poverty, abandonment. Now he is comforted here and you are in agony.
‘And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
The Lucky Country answered, ‘Then I beg you, Abraham, send the beggar to my family, for I have 22 million brothers and sisters. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
Abraham replied, ‘They hear the stories, they hear the cries, they even hear the Word; let them listen to these.’
‘No, father Abraham,’ said the Lucky Country, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will change their minds and hearts.’
Abraham said to the Lucky Country, ‘If they do not listen to all that is before them, they will not be convinced even if their Christ, who has Risen from the dead, speaks to them.’
(Adapted from Luke 16:19-31)
Of course, as a nation, we cannot simply say, “Everyone welcome, no matter what.” We do need an orderly migration process. We do have a moral responsibility to bankrupt the people-smuggling trade. We do need to make some tough calls. But we also need to ensure that the response to the ‘Lazaruses’ at our feet is not shaped by silly slogans and a kind of small-minded nationalism.
And, while some have tried, none of us is in a position to take the moral high ground either. This is too complex an issue to be hijacked by the self-righteous.
We are mostly a generous nation. We are mostly a fair nation. We are a Lucky nation. It behoves us, then, to reflect deeply, and humbly, about our obligations to the ‘beggars’ at our feet.
It prompts the question: Can I forgo a little personal comfort in order to comfort someone else?
Fr Peter Day is the Parish Priest, Corpus Christi, Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn.