He’s my brother ...

Living in today’s world, we are so aware of our surroundings, what is happening in our neighborhoods, towns, states and countries; with the help of social media, we are kept in the know. With such advanced and immediate reporting of current events, it is very easy for us to fall for the hype around what is happening, even if it is worlds away. 

The second reading this week from Philemon truly speaks to me of what is expected of us, regardless of what is transpiring. There is so much violence and hatred, so much political unrest, so much finger-pointing and blame, it is often hard to see beyond the negativity, to recognize the positive and good. 

We as a people, just finished watching 17 days of the good that exists on this planet. The Olympics demonstrate that individuals can and do get along, working together for the greater good. We witnessed as Olympians strived to give it their all, even to the point of physical pain, to show the world their best. Athletes coming together to demonstrate the finest each nation had to offer. Competitors recognized each other as brother and sister, working together to bring out the elite among them. Some even giving up the chance of winning to ensure that a fellow athlete finished as well. 

For 17 days all these people came together and lived together under the same roof, proving to the world that we can and do get along when biases are put aside. Yet with all this, the world constantly barrages us with notions and ideas that we can’t and don’t get along. That we are enemies first and foremost, and we should treat others as such. We cannot and will not acknowledge others as equal, because they are different, they do not worship, live, work or learn as we do. They eat and drink and socialize so differently than we do, how can we possibly entertain notions that we could even get along, let alone live together? Yet the world just did in Brazil, and we witnessed it. 

In the Scripture reading, Paul is asking and urging Philemon to accept Onesimus as an equal, a brother. A Bible passage that was written so many years ago, yet holds true for today’s society. Onesimus was a slave and a runaway, as are many of today’s refugees. They are running from oppression and hatred, from homes that hold no promise for them in the hopes of beginning anew. They, like Onesimus, are looking to be accepted, treated as an equal, and recognized as a fellow human being, on a similar journey through life. 

The message is very clear, we must put aside our misconceptions and misguided beliefs, and see the brother or sister before us. To recognize others as equals, treating them as we would want to be treated. Seeing beyond the surface to find the good in others. It is also a message of forgiveness, of looking beyond the transgressions of a nation, to see its people. To recognize that they are truly no different, they work, play, raise families, and strive to have abundant lives filled with love and hope, just as we do. 

Recently I watched a very intriguing and interesting video by momondo.com, entitled “The DNA Journey.” A group of people of varying nationalities were interviewed and one of the questions asked of them was, “Is there a country you do not really care for?” The answers were varied, many believing they were superior to others. After the questions, they were asked if they would be willing to take part in the DNA journey. They agreed, and the results were amazing, with individuals discovering that their heritage was diverse, and that there were many overlapping nationalities in the bloodline. The real surprise for some participants was finding that they had a relative in the group. The message of the project is very clear, “there are more things uniting us than dividing us.” No different than Paul’s message to Philemon.

So why do we still choose to find fault in our neighbor, to see them as being so different than ourselves? We truly are all brothers and sisters under the skin, with similar needs and wants, hopes and aspirations, doing what we can to provide our families with better lives. Yet we allow ourselves to be swayed by the belief that we can never be equals, because we are so different. Yet it is our uniqueness that continues to give glory to God, it is the very ability to be different that makes us wonderful and amazing. Just as each athlete brought his or her own unique style and talent to the Olympic games, giving us, the viewers, stunning performances that bore witness to what the human body can accomplish and withstand. We too, can work together, uniting our combined talents in the effort of being more accepting of each other, choosing to see the brother or sister standing there. 

In a world filled with so much turmoil, can we dare to be different? Can we voluntarily reach out to those in need, to those seeking acceptance, seeing them as they truly are, children of a loving God, and “our beloved brother or sister”?

Anchor columnist Rose Mary Saraiva lives in Fall River and is a parishioner of Holy Trinity, and she is the Events Coordinator and Bereavement Ministry for the diocesan Office of Faith Formation. She is married with three children and two grandchildren. rsaraiva@dfrcs.com

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts