Sep 25, 2010

26th Sunday: Indifference or Compassion?

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Amos 6: 1., 4-7
1 Timothy 6: 11-16
Luke 16: 19-31

Among the seven deadly sins, gluttony and sloth are likely the most unattractive. We may imagine a person who sits, piles their plate with food, never exercises, and has a particular attraction to buffet restaurants. I like buffets but within limits. Food and drink, the good things of life, become for them an idol. The example may be a bit extreme but not entirely. In our society which preaches “more is better” and “there’s more where that came from” and "you really should have it all" we may remember that we can also be gluttonous about things and not just about food.
But, the real sin here is that of greed. Riches, wealth and greed are pretty much put in the same category when we hear them used in the scriptures.

This Sunday we have a well known parable from Jesus about a rich man and a poor beggar names Lazarus. The first reading from the prophet Amos begins, “Woe to the complacent in Zion!” I’m struck by the key word, “complacent.” Other words to convey the same theme would be: satisfied, content, smug, unworried, self-righteous, self-satisfied.

The Gospel parable is a clear illustration of this theme. Here sits Lazarus the beggar right outside the front door of the rich man who, “. . . dressed in a purple garment and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day . . .” Lazarus was, “. . . lying at his door . . . covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. . .” The stark contrast between rich and abject poor could not be made more clear.

The chasm or abyss stated in the Gospel is an compelling image as is the role reversal between the rich man and Lazarus after the time of their death. The one who was rich is now desperate for even the smallest portion: “Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue . . .” While Lazarus, the poor unfortunate, rests in the “bosom of Abraham” as he enjoys a comfort and satisfaction he never had in this life.

But it is the complacency, the indifference, the blindness to the needs of the poor that have created the chasm- one made by the selfishness of the rich man. This is an extreme example of the dangers and distractions of greed. The story implies the wealthy just do not need God. They certainly do not need the poor. The great sin was not that the rich man was rich but that he was complacent, smug, unworried, and blind to the basic human needs of Lazarus. He could have done so much but he chose, or was blind by choice, and did nothing.

The Gospel today is one of those which is meant to disturb our conscience. This is not a story that we feel good about. It’s not the warm assurance of the infinite mercy of God we hear of later in Luke’s parable of the Prodigal Son, for example. This story of the rich man and Lazarus is designed to prick our conscience and force us to examine our sense of justice. If it does do that, then we should listen.

Now, neither I nor you are the President, the Secretary of State, or a world leader who has his/her finger on initiating global peace. While we can work to see our government policies are fair and just to all, we are ordinary Catholics and Christians, each of whom has been called to a particular state in life, in a certain time and place, to live out the Gospel of Christ as we have come to know it.

Yet, among us live the wealthy, the powerful, the middle class and the disadvantaged. Who is Lazarus lying at our front door? A neighbor? A spouse? A family member? A co-worker? The stranger? Wherever human need exists, which is pretty much everywhere, there we find Lazarus.

It is sad but a true fact that many wealthy, those who have the resources to make a profound difference for the good of humanity, simply do not. But, let’s be careful and not go too hard on such folks; there are many good and generous rich. Any one of us is capable of being indifferent to the problems of others and the solution is not just in writing a check. A word of compassion, forgiveness, to be inclusive in my attitude, to pay attention to another, a simple smile or handshake may go a long way to heal the wounds of the Lazarus at our doorstep. Try reading the Gospel, as you prepare for this Sunday, and use your name in place of the “rich man.”

“There was John who dressed in purple . . .” “Here was Mary who dressed in purple . . .” or whoever you may be. Does it stir your heart to compassion for Lazarus? If so, how might you change the wording of the parable?

A number of years ago, during one of his visits to North America, Pope John Paul II, commented on this specific Gospel during a Mass in Ontario, Canada:

In the light of Christ’s words, the poor South will judge the rich North. And the poor people and poor nations – poor in different ways, not only lacking in food, but also deprived of freedom and other human rights – will judge those people who take these goods away from them . . . at the expense of others.

If ever there was food for thought, the readings of this Sunday invite us to examine our consciences to a better, more just way of life.