“Thus, says the LORD the God of hosts: Woe to the complacent in Zion! They are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph! Therefore, they shall be the first to go into exile, and their wanton revelry shall be done away with.” Words from our 1st reading today from the 6th chapter of the prophet Amos – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
There was a gentleman who was travelling south on a business trip, and upon settling into the hotel in Miami, sent a cordial check-in email to his wife who was due to join him soon afterwards on vacation. But because he mistyped the email address, a poor grieving widow who just came back home from the funeral of her husband instead received this troubling email message: “Hi honey – just arrived… I’m busy making preparations for your arrival tomorrow. See you soon. Your loving husband. P.S. Boy is it hot down here!”
Having heard the entirety of the Gospel story, we know where the rich man ended up after his life on earth had passed. All the same, I would like for us to withhold our judgment of him and put ourselves into the shoes of Jesus’ contemporary audience as we are introduced to the rich man for the first time. If we do so, we will be hard pressed to find anything particularly wrong with him: is there anything morally wrong with wearing fine clothes, like a suit coat and tie or a fine dress with jewelry? No, there is nothing wrong with dressing up. Is there anything morally wrong with going out to eat at a nice restaurant like Russell’s for a meal? No – that’s fine. What about looking out for your family members – that’s a good thing right? Certainly, the rich man wanted to make sure his brothers and family members were safe and sound, free from such torment themselves. Given that the poor man Lazarus had sores and open wounds and was living amongst the dogs – and we should clarify that these are “wild” dogs – Lazarus would have been considered ritually unclean. Point being, we can tell that the rich man was attentive to the proscriptions of the law of his Jewish faith, for he wouldn’t have been able to come to worship at synagogue then if he had in fact associated with Lazarus. And finally, Abraham acknowledged that God had indeed blessed the rich man’s life – “you received what was good during your lifetime,” the Scriptures say. So, the logical question that remains is: if he was in fact a good person, a family man, who was trying to live a faithful and moral life and was blessed by God, then why should he have to suffer so? That he went to the netherworld at his passing to suffer torment would have been a shocking conclusion to the Jewish audience that Jesus was addressing. What about us? We didn’t do anything wrong and worked hard for what we have. We’re good people too, aren’t we? Given our own similarities to the rich man, we also might come to sympathize with the rich man’s position and his rather unfair outcome.
But Jesus, and the prophet Amos too, are reminding us, indeed challenging us, to the fact that our own salvation is wrapped up together in the salvation and welfare of all. The problem for Amos was not so much that there were rich people in Ancient Israel but that they were totally complacent. He says, “they were not made ill by the collapse of Joseph.” They were unmoved. They didn’t care about others but were concerned only about keeping themselves comfortable and happy. That was the same problem for the rich man of the Gospel as he ignored the troubles of Lazarus, and made no effort to show any concern for the welfare of Lazarus, even after his death. It’s not that these people did anything wrong, they were good people… It’s what they failed to do, it’s what they didn’t do for others, that got them into trouble.
When we prepare for Mass, we pray the Confiteor, saying: I confess to almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts, in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do… What we fail to do for the sake of others around us are called sins of omission. The sins of omission are often the most dangerous sins because of how they go under the radar. In our concern for our own goods, we put off, we forget, we ignore, we become blind to the opportunities for the goods of others, the consequences of which are far-reaching for them in their predicament, as well as ourselves in the hardening of our own hearts. In doing so we close ourselves off to each other. And unfortunately, there continues to be a chasm between the rich and the poor today, between the haves and have nots, between those who are healthy and not, between those who have citizenship and not, and the many other differentiations we make between race, creed, political parties, family lines and the like.
Now, the antidote to these sins of omission is quite simply to open ourselves to living in relationship with others. Solidarity is the virtue here that puts us in another’s shoes and asks us to walk with each other. Solidarity, living in relationship with others, becoming aware of their story and their plight, sharing their grief and pain, their joys and hopes, opens our closed hearts to true love and compassion. It’s a good feeling to help others out. It’s amazing, too, the healing that compassionate service will do for your own weary heart. But I warn you in advance that compassion also hurts. Compassion literally means “suffering with.” All we have to do is look at the crucifix to know how much God has opened his heart to us. Though God had all things, he left behind all the trappings of divinity that were rightly his and gave himself away to an undeserving people. We are called to do the same.
Now, maybe we are unable to materially help someone or it could be that such assistance ends up further enabling a bad situation, say for instance addictions or illegal activity. These are important deliberations in the balancing act of life, which help us love each other authentically. We know that boundaries are integral to healthy relationships. But let’s not use these considerations as an excuse to shut others out and withdraw into our own worlds. We may not be able to help others materially, but that doesn’t mean we can’t love them still. Indifference, not hate, is the opposite of love. God’s word is challenging us to repent, to move out of our complacency, to be made ill by the collapse of Joseph. Their troubles are our troubles. Their salvation is our salvation. Who are we neglecting, who is the Lazarus of our community, who has a name and a dignity the same as us? Think about it – am I my brother’s keeper?