By Don Posterski
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35, NRSV).
Love is like an unfinished puzzle. In the context of relationships, love is an invitation to put the pieces of life together. There is promise and disappointment, exhilaration and complexity. When the pieces fit together, there is joy.
Child labour is also like an unfinished puzzle. In the country contexts where there are expectations for children to go to work instead of going to school, there is complexity. There is exhilaration when there is enough food in the pantry and money in the family fund to pay the school’s mandatory fees. There is disappointment when the harsh reality dictates that children have to become family wage earners.
Those of us who live in the more developed world can have difficulty grasping the realities facing those who live in the less developed world. Parents everywhere see their children with eyes of love. They want them to be educated and live well. They envision a future for their children that exceeds their own. Still, some are forced to surrender their children to the realities of their plight.
I remember visiting a community in South-Eastern India. The social-economic realities were meager. For many, child labour was the cultural norm. The community leaders who were guiding our visit walked us toward an auto garage repair shop. On the way they explained that we would find children working there. They also showed us a small enclosure where there was a school classroom. Supported by World Vision, the community leaders had negotiated two concessions with the auto repair shop owner: to allow the children who worked in the garage to finish work one hour early – and to use the space to teach them until they went home for supper.
In today’s scriptural passage, Jesus “commands us to love one another.” Framing love as a command seems incongruous. But on reflection, commanding us to love directs us to think about how we choose to love. It invites us to imagine new ways to intentionally love.
In the case of the community in India, the immediate way to love the working children was to negotiate two agreements. The longer path to loving those children will be to advocate for social and economic change that puts the pieces of the child labour puzzle in the right places.