Monday, December 7, 2009

What is left, if we don’t have rights?

A few days ago, I had a most frustrating, albeit enlightening encounter with a dear friend. We were in the same room, just the both of us, and suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, he whips out his mobile phone, and begins to fidget with the buttons. I thought it was a message that he was replying, but it was taking unusually long. Then I asked him if he was playing a game. He said he was. At that instant, I made a beeline for the exit of the room, and couldn’t help but feel offended by what had happened. Throughout the remaining part of the day, I was rather disturbed. My initial reaction was to label my friend as rude, requiring some major remedial lessons in Manners 101. But as I cooled down and reflected on my reactions, I realized that this encounter had something to teach me, not about my friend, but more importantly about myself. I am a firm believer that it is not the joys and successes in life that mould and shape us, but what we feel offends us, and upsets us that bring us to the doorstep of true and converted living.

Most of the world’s problems actually have their genesis somewhere along these similar lines. Someone had either done or said something that made us feel either insignificant or unimportant. And we reacted simply because we felt that we deserve better. We feel that our rights had been violated, or our territorial boundaries trespassed, or our hard earned degree and diploma undervalued and under-appreciated, or our contributions ignored or worse, put down and denigrated. Think of the time when a motorist cuts into your lane, and you get all riled up simply because you felt that you had the RIGHT to that lane. What we do, in most cases, is to give back in a way that hurts the other person. And of course, this can cascade into a spiral of violence that ends up with our turbulent and troubled world. But the question remains – where and why did this all begin? Simply put, we feel that our “rights” had been violated and ignored, and we deserve better.

But is this something that is objectively true? Do we have rights, let alone inalienable rights, as the North Americans are wont to put it. Do we really own anything, is anything really ours to possess? Does everything that we have earned and worked for become ours for all time? If we really come to think about it seriously, and if we are truly and painfully honest, we will come to the conclusion that nothing that we have is our “right”. The writer of the Book of Genesis points this out when he shows how Adam and Eve “took” from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Indeed, all is grace, and all is gift, and not a right.

The problems of the world stem from the mistaken notion that what we have is our ‘right’, and that we ‘deserve’ things like love, respect, honour, forgiveness, and even patience from others, and instead of receiving them with gratitude, we ‘take’ or even ‘grab’ them.

The Beatitudes of Christ when he began his ministry had as its fundamental teaching that no one truly has rights and no one deserves anything. And that is because everything and everyone is gift. When we realize this, then yes, blessed are we when we know how to weep and mourn when there is death, either of dreams or of people, because at that moment of true weeping, we come to see that what we had was gift, and that it was all so undeserved. How can one not weep at the knowledge that one has been so graced in life?

The poor are the ones who are blessed because to them, everything is gift, and nothing is deserved. Same for those who hunger and thirst, the meek, etc. The true happiness and blessedness is hidden in plain sight when we mistakenly think that we deserve anything and have rights.

Perhaps there are some reading this blog entry who are shaking their heads, thinking that I am an idealist and don’t know a thing about how the economy is driven. The legal industry seems to be heavily based on what seems to be each human person’s rights. Would all this then be seen as redundant and my sharings a tad simplistic? Perhaps. But then, so was Jesus at his inaugural at the Sermon on the Mount. Most of us just don’t know what to do with those statements that seem to turn our world in a tizzy. Certainly, this blog is not meant in any way to promote or justify bad behaviour, but if all we can think of is protecting our rights, and doing as we please, we easily end up becoming not instruments of change, but agents of violence.

As we enter into the second week of Advent, perhaps we should take this seriously to prayer – that we had no right at all to expect God to do what he did – to come and live like one of us, to show us how to live, how to love, how to die, and from that, how to rise. Even the powers that be at the time of John the Baptist thought they had rights due to their power and position, but note that in Luke’s gospel, the Word of God (pure gift), came not to Tiberius Caesar, not to any of the Tetrachs, the governors or the chief priests, but to the beatnik-like person at the fringe of society, at the Jordan River.

And when we truly see that it is all gift, then even if good friends do things that may end up with us feeling unimportant, we can become thankful because at the incarnation, God himself became unimportant for us, making us SO important.


  1. Obviously, if our rights are trampled....what is left....are many 'wrongs'..(.consequences)as you so interestingly & unerringly addressed! However , we also cannot blatantly dismiss some basic 'rights' of the individual and 'collective' rights of the 'herd' fact, isn't that what the Great Commandment was all about ? - to right our wrong thinking & doing ?

  2. Truly, the penitential service is,' a gift from God to His Church'-Hope its leaders will deliver this gift to His flock, generously and lovingly.Thank you Fr Luke and,"May God Bless you."

  3. Dear Fr
    I recently viewed an old movie “Hotel Rwanda” and sat there stunned when it ended. I was disturbed by the atrocities and genocide committed and more disturbed by my indifference then as I remember reading about it in the newspapers back in 1994 (I was in my 20s) and like what one of the characters in the movie, UN Peacekeeping force Colonel Oliver said: “they will see it (the massacre) on TV and they will carry on with their dinners.”
    I concur with you that nothing that we have is our “right”. I have often asked myself what right have I got to be born the way I am or to the gifts/blessings that I have received. I could have been born of a different race, skin colour or religion like the Tutsis, Rohingyas or Uighurs – people whom some others frown upon their existence or even say that they have no right to exist. It is times like this that I am utterly grateful for all that I am and have. I suppose when one is filled with gratitude, then one can readily forgive, especially those who matter; gratitude births only positive feelings as one author so aptly puts it.
    Yay, Christmas is just 2 weeks away!

  4. What is left if we don't have rights?

    Plenty if you ask me.

    We would have patience, kindness, compassion, understanding, generosity, a forgiving heart, spiritual enlightenment, humility, peace, love in our hearts, gentleness, a smile on our face, a place in heaven, need I say more?

    What we may lose out on is "bread", but the Scripture says, "man does not live on bread alone".

    1. This blog said it all. I had an argument of rights with my daughter. And my 3rd daughter simply asked " mom please forgive her". Wow points right to what should be done. Thank God. Is it u who are talking to me through this simple n pure heart