This past week I’ve just finished writing an article on
the problems facing the board of directors of the Sierra Club.
The Sierra Club, you will recall, is a nonprofit organization
that has been around for over 100-years with the mission of protecting
the environment from harm. Since the late 1990’s there have
been many attempts at a hostile takeover of the board by anti-immigration
groups. They are the ones who would like to see the Sierra Club
embrace an anti-immigration agenda as part of the club’s
So what does the Sierra Club or anti-immigration enthusiasts
have to do with the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time? On the surface,
nothing, but underneath, the heart of today’s readings.
Justice, both socially and spiritually, is at the heart of today’s
Social justice is about public interest groups who fail to see
the “unseen” the “forgotten” in society,
the ones who are seriously affected by such crusades. It’s
about the men, women and children who only want a better life
in a world that God has given to all of us, just not a select
few. The readings are also about spiritual justice where parallel
worlds exists side-by-side and those of affluence fail to see
or touch the needy within arm’s length.
In the first reading from the Hebrew Scriptures hear Amos. Amos
was the prophet of social justice. God called him to speak to
the rich of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. The country was
about to be destroyed by the Assyrians but the wealthy were unconcerned.
Their lifestyle was to be the undoing of the country. Amos warned
that they would be the first taken into captivity because of their
total disregard for the plight of the poor.
Luke tells us this is precisely the sin of the rich man in the
Gospel. In the parallel world the rich man is insulated by a lavish
lifestyle making him oblivious to the poor man Lazarus sitting
at his gate. The rich man was in his own little world and didn’t
bother to look beyond his extravagant and pampered life. This
parable is so typical of Luke warning us about the responsibility
of wealth. Some of the harshest words in Sacred Scripture are
directed at the uncaring rich.
The rich man never entered the world of poor Lazarus. He never
accepted Lazarus as a brother who shared a common humanity. The
rich man was indifferent and isolated from the cares of the poor.
Riches can make a person self-occupied and blinded to the needs
Father Flor McCarthy, SDB, says the rich man didn’t do
anything wrong. But why did he end up in ‘the torment of
Hades?’ He was not condemned because he was rich, but because
he failed to show compassion to the poor man. The rich man lived
only for himself.
God’s word today is a message we need to take to heart.
We need to remember Lazarus, the rich man and the warning of Amos
to a people ambivalent to the poor. We need to look beneath the
surface of our political and social activism and see whether there
are the “unseen” and “forgotten” sisters
and brothers who will be affected by our enthusiasm or lack of
Daily we encounter the parallel world of the poor and forgotten.
Many times we, like the rich man in Luke’s gospel, are oblivious
to the needy in our lives. We may see a homeless person sitting
on the corner, day in and day out, never asking for assistance.
And daily we just walk on by without not so much as a ‘hello’.
Mrs. Johnson lives two doors down in 4A. She lost her husband
about a year ago and we’ve still failed to call on her.
In these example, we like the rich man, didn’t do anything
wrong. The rich man didn’t go out of his way to hurt Lazarus
or add to his misery. He was just indifferent and failed to show
compassion. This was his great sin.
Today the Lord gives us the opportunity to cross from our side
of privilege and comfort to the undesirable side where poverty
and hunger, loneliness and despair is the norm. Christ is asking
us today to make that parallel world part of our own.