My friends, being that I was away at retreat with my sister priests for the greater part of this week, I opted for using most of an earlier homily on today’s readings with a few updates. Hopefully, there is still good for us all in this previous work.
Once again with today’s readings, we are challenged to care for those who in our society and world, live with less because most of us live with more. It isn’t news that we in the First World have managed to accumulate the lion’s share of the world’s goods and we are willing to fight to keep it, and whether we personally believe that or not, our country does and that is why we fight many of the wars that we do, to protect our interests around the world. The years of COVID certainly lifted up for us the disparity between rich and poor and how those with less suffer far more and quicker than those who have enough of this world’s goods.
Lives are being lost today, as throughout history, on both sides of battles, over nations wanting more, rather than trying to find a way for all of us to have the basics which will ultimately mean some having less so that everyone can have some.
Our United States is really good about giving humanitarian aid throughout the world when disasters strike, and so we should! We can look at the unequal distribution of the world’s goods and say truthfully, that no one of us is responsible for this situation—but people of heart and character will always struggle over what to do to help, and so we should!
The Scriptures today don’t speak so much against having wealth when others do not, but against being complacent in our lifestyles. Complacency seems to be the greater evil for which the prophet Amos has his dander up with the Israelite people today. Complacency is about being so wrapped up in our own world, our own lives, and our own projects that we cease to see the “Lazarus” people at our door, looking for the scraps.
I have found myself doing a great deal of reflecting of late as we recently celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary, and I am realizing anew that the way I feel about my family—all the memories of the good of those years and of how we stood by each other in the hard times as well, is how most other families feel about each other—we all want happiness and good for those that we love.
Unfortunately, over the years, figures continue to show that the poor have become poorer and the rich—richer, a fact that we can’t be complacent about. Complacency can drive us to see our own children and their needs and wants without realizing that we are likewise connected to all the children throughout the world, especially to those who have no food, and being Jesus’ followers should call us to, no less. Every religious belief system calls its people to service of the less fortunate and the deeper message and challenge is always to understand why the imbalance exists, and then, to do what we can to right it.
I think we find ourselves troubled by the story of the rich person and Lazarus today—probably more so by the cruel-seeming outcome for the complacent rich person. We speak often here in our gatherings of the great love and mercy of our God—a few weeks ago we had the story of the prodigal child—wasteful of this world’s goods and the prodigal, wasteful, almost, love of the parent in accepting the wayward one back. So why today, do we see no leniency for the rich person?
It seems the difference is that this wealthy person never made the connections in his life, even though fiery prophets such as Amos and others, one after another, came and proclaimed, challenged that there be a better, more just way of life for all. The rich person didn’t heed the message whereas the prodigal found the way home and did see the light.
My friends, we all have free wills—no one from on high or from below will ultimately be able to force us to do anything—we will need to choose. The responsibility is ours and so too the consequences. I believe that Jesus wants us to get the message, in no uncertain terms, that many things, while not good, can and will be forgiven, but when we simply don’t care or can’t be bothered, or for whatever reason, don’t attempt to see the connection to the whole; we are on shaky ground.
It has been suggested that the poor, destitute person, Lazarus, has a name in the story and that the rich person does not to uplift the plight of the poor man and to downplay the actions of the rich person. It has also been suggested that we try and see how we might be like the rich person; not that the situation is the same—of not feeding the hungry, but maybe there are other ways that we are capable of sharing in issues of inequality. Can we perhaps make a call; write a letter, saying “no” to a congressperson that we don’t agree with? Who are the people right in front of me, at my doorstep, so to speak, whose needs I am ignoring?
At the conclusion of my RCWP retreat, we celebrated the liturgy together—this same liturgy and the presider suggested that the person, right in front of us, might be ourselves who most need care today. A very valid point!
And friends, that is truly what it is all about—taking the Scriptures and making them come alive today, applying them to our current life situations.
The Spirit of God is continually renewing the face of the earth, calling each of us to be our best selves; and that isn’t about a narrow, strict following of man-made law and regulation, but about the law of love, prodigal loving even, that Jesus talked about. We simply can’t be about living our lives with reference to “black and white” rules when the solutions to many of our world’s problems; climate change, gun violence, unending wars, hypocrisy in leadership in both Church and State throw us into “gray areas” where “heart action,” not “head action” alone, is needed.
Being “black and white” as a response to the needs of this world, can often leave us feeling really disconnected from our best selves. We can’t fully know what it is like to be on the receiving end of a law, such as those against the LGBTQ community, women and more, that are devoid of love, or to be discriminated against for the way we were born, if that hasn’t been our reality, unless we walk in someone else’s shoes for a while. We can’t always do that, but we can try very hard to treat others as we would want to be treated. In every situation where we encounter strife, animosity, or division; we must apply the law of love. We can’t just talk about labels devoid of the human component. Once we give the label a human face; we can never again be complacent; we can never again say, “It’s not my business.” We can no longer walk away.
If we choose to stay and confront the evil present; (remember, evil is easy to spot—it is that which is devoid of love) then we must be good listeners of people’s stories, as we spoke of last week. We must have ears that can truly hear and hearts that can feel their pain. I think of the many in this world and their families who live with mental illness—certainly not something that they chose.
It isn’t an easy thing to confront the powers-that-be if that is the route, we choose to make a difference, because we have all been taught to give them the respect of the office; but we must always remember that we answer to a higher power. We all know right from wrong and must simply speak up when people are being misused and abused—no matter who is speaking the untruth. It was what our brother Jesus did, and it is what we must do!
You all remember Swedish-born, Greta Thunberg who has given such a great example of speaking truth to power in the past concerning climate change and saving our planet for the next generation. Her plea and demand even, that each of us steps up, was right -on, refusing to be complacent any longer.
The times in which we live friends, are crisis-laden, lacking in morality—selfish times, that we must, simply must address with love—continually ask our brother Jesus to stand by us as we endeavor to be “the light” this world needs.
In conclusion, looking back at today’s gospel, the rich man was apparently “condemned” not for his selfishness, but for his complacency that effectively allowed him, “not to see” the suffering right in front of him! Let us not be guilty of the same! Amen? Amen!