ARE WE SENSITIVE TO THE WEAK AND THE POOR?
HOMILY FOR TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C. Readings: Amos 6:1,4-7; Psalm 147; 1Timothy 6:11-16 and Luke 16:19-31.
Today’s liturgy draws our attentions to people that are weak and poor in our neighborhoods, people who have no capacity to fulfill the minimum essential necessities of life. The prophet Amos and Jesus in the readings re-sounds the theme of judgment and condemnation for the unjust, and the reward for the just.
The first reading presents to us the prophet Amos who prophesied during a time of economic prosperity in Israel, and the successful people in Israel used that prosperity for pure self-indulgences. With this, Amos begins with the word “Woe!” It is a word that usually introduces a catalog of the people’s sins followed by a description of a judgment that they can expect as punishment for their sins. This is referred to “Those who sit in Zion and those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria” (Amos 6:1). The problem of Zion and Samaria is complacency. They assumed that God will protect them from all evil, because they are God’s people. As St. Paul will later say, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31). That is the attitude of the people, who assume God is for them, but in this case, God has become weary in the face of their religiosity. Amos had to make them understand that the God whom they believe to be their defender instead has become their accuser, their prosecutor and their judge. Amos continued with his condemnation and attack on the leading men of Israel or political leaders and the elite, the rich and influential people who oppress the weak and poor in the society. He pronounced judgment and punishment on those who derived joy and comfort from the sufferings and miseries of the poor that they will lead in the train of captives when the Assyrians conquered Israel.
Amos speaks of the extravagant life of the rich while others were living in abject poverty. He said, “Woe to those who lie upon beds of ivory…” (v.4). For most ordinary people, life is hard. They work from sunrise to sunset and beyond, yet find it difficult to have three square meals a day, not to talk of time to go out and enjoy a bit of relaxation, but their wealthy leaders, both political and religious have time and are comfortable enough to accommodate their leisure hours. We cannot be comfortable in our riches while our neighbors are dying of starvation. When we are blessed with prosperities, we are called to attend to the needs of the poor. An extravagant life is a self-centered life moreover when we have the poor around us, so let us not act or live like people who are insensitive to their plights.
In view of this, the gospel presents to us the story of a sick and miserable poor man called Lazarus, whose body was clothed with sores and the rich man on the other hand was clothed in purple and fine linen, which symbolizes wealth and power, and he feasted sumptuously every day. Today we need not be wealthy to engage in this kind of self-indulgence. Lazarus being at his gate symbolizes the distance of two different worlds, the distance that separates him from the rich man’s world. Not only did Lazarus not have a gate, he did not have a house either. Lying just outside the rich man’s gate, he is physically separated from the rich man’s house by only a few meters but was inaccessible of his world. We can imagine how Lazarus must have felt so poor in the face of such wealth. Today, wealth and poverty often co-exist in close proximity, fueling great anger on the part of the people who have neither money nor hope.
Like the first reading, the story of Jesus brings to mind the four last things of Catholicism: death, judgment, heaven and hell. It also assures us of the comfort of those who remain faithful to God in the midst of adversity. They both eventually died and the theme of judgment was at play. Lazarus who probably had no befitting burial had an Angelic escort to Abraham’s bosom and the rich man to Hades, being in torment. While on earth, Lazarus was the beggar, after death, the rich man became the beggar, begging for mercy: “Father Abraham, have mercy upon me and send Lazarus to deep his finger in water and cool my tongue” (v.24). While Lazarus was at his gate, few meters away, the rich man gave no evidence he had ever seen him. Now he claims to see him despite the great chasm between them.
This story challenges us to always remember the Lazarus at our gates in need of help, love, care support and attention. The fact that Lazarus did not ask the rich man does not mean he did not need anything. The gospel presents the lack of insensitivity of the rich man towards the poor. Some of us want the poor to bow or prostrate before us with much pleading before we can render help to them. Some in position to give aid to the jobless ones will demand for sexual affair or similar condition before they render help. If we engage in these wicked acts in any way, the gospel reminds us of the four last things. Let us be mindful that we are in a passing world and so embrace a life of detachment. When we are so attached to our possessions, we become scared of giving and less sensitive to the poor.
Because of our selfish interest and greed, we pretend not to see the poor around us or feel we are doing enough by allowing them sleep at our gates without minding their well-being. It is on this note that St. Paul in the second reading urges us to be content and avoid excessive love for materialism which makes us deviate from God (1Tim. 6:11). Hence, we are called to strive for life eternal by detaching from material possessions through our works of mercy and love to the weak and the poor within our neighborhood. The entire history of our salvation is marked by the presence of the poor. So, embrace a new practice or enhance your Christian virtues by observing the poor around you and show them love without their request. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their cause, to be their friends and to listen to them. Let us remember “He who closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself cry out and not be heard” (Prov. 21:13). God bless you!
Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ