Whose rights need defending? Who is defending these rights?

Photo: Marcelo Schneider/WCC

“…for I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me, I was naked, and you gave me clothing, I was sick, and you took care of me, I was in prison, and you visited me.” (Matthew 25: 35, 36)

As we prepare for 43rd session of the Human Rights Council, which begins on 24 February, we reflect on the aspect of the existential needs of people - water, food, care and accompaniment. Jesus illustrates who is right and who is wrong, based on our response to the needs of others. Jesus Christ identifies himself amongst the vulnerable, the needy, saying that what we do to the person in the margins of society, we do to Jesus Christ. God is visible and present in the margins of society. Therefore, our service to those in need becomes worship!

The scriptures do not leave us in any doubt that people in need are entitled to lead full and dignified lives.

“The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.’" (Isaiah 58:11)

The right to food and water and the right to live dignified lives is the manifestation of the love of God, flowing unhindered to the children of God. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8: 38, 39).

Let us remove every hindrance each child, woman, individual or community is facing from experiencing the love of God. Each person is entitled to experience the love of God.

Who are the ones responding to these needs and defending the rights of the vulnerable? In the context of the Bible, this too comes from the margins of society. The unmarried teenager bears and gives birth to the Messiah, as a refugee in poverty. The carpenter becomes the Saviour. It is the suffering and crucifixion of the innocent that paves way to the liberation of the oppressed. In Jesus's famous parable, the marginalised Samaritan assists and saves the waylaid traveller on the road to Jericho. It is the excluded Samaritan woman who gives a thirsty Jesus water to drink, and she is the first one to share with the broader community, pointing to Jesus as the source of the living water.  A young boy shared all he had, five small barley loaves and two small fish, which led to feeding the multitude.

Nevertheless, even in the Scriptures, it is clear that redemption is possible for people with power, position and wealth, if they are able to turn the heavy page. Be it Nicodemus, Zacchaeus, Joseph of Arimathea, or Lydia of Thyatira, they transformed their influence and wealth to serve others.

How is it today? Are we responding to the needs of people? Are we looking for solutions in the wrong places and chasing shadows?  Are we able to transform ourselves and society to defend the rights of the most vulnerable? Are we able to listen, stand alongside and consider the agency of those who are in the margins of society?

About the author :

Dr Manoj Kurian is the coordinator of the WCC-Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.

He is a Malaysian medical doctor, trained in Community Health and Health Systems Management. After working for seven years in mission hospitals in diverse rural regions in India, from 1999, he headed the health work at the WCC for 13 years. From 2012, for two years, he worked at the International AIDS Society as the senior manager, responsible for the policy and advocacy work.

He is an adjunct faculty at the College of Public Health, Kent State University, USA. Manoj is married and has two children.


The impressions expressed in the blog posts are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.