29 September 2013
Amos 6:1, 4-7
1 Timothy 6:11-16
A certain man had just been promoted in his job and this meant a lot of extra money for him. So he and his wife decided to celebrate. They invited a number of other well-off people to the celebration. Half way through the meal someone knocked on their door. The wife went out and found a poor man who asked for a cup of water and a slice of bread. She was very angry that he had disturbed their celebration and she told him in a very harsh voice to clear off as quickly as possible.
This story reminds us of today’s readings. They speak to us about the danger of wealth and power. It must be said immediately that Jesus is not against money. He knows we need it to live. What he is speaking very powerfully about is the danger of money if it is not used properly and so can enslave us.
In the first reading the prophet Amos challenges and warns the rich and powerful of Israel. Amos fears that the rich, comfortable lifestyle of the well-off will corrupt them and bring about their downfall as it indeed does when they are forced into exile. The bottom line is that they had become seduced by their wealth and had relied almost totally on it. They had become less and less reliant of God whilst becoming more caught up in all the things that money can buy. Greed leads us to place in money and the various forms of power flowing from it the trust which should only be in God. Amos is speaking to the wealthy who believe their riches will never fail to support their comforts. The attraction to the comforts and easy lifestyle which wealth provides desensitises the hearts of the rich who main worry may well be about the next exciting event or the newest gadget they can buy.
Jesus in the gospel continues the same theme. He is speaking directly to the Pharisees whom he knows to be lovers of money. Money can blind us to the needs of the poor. The readings invite us to change our way of seeing things. With money there is the danger of thinking we can buy anything we want as well as forgetting the poor. What Jesus is saying is that if we don’t put our trust in God, then no amount of wealth can save us or substitute for God.
Here lies the danger that the gospel warns us about. The sin of the rich man is not in his accumulation of wealth but his unconcern for the poor and suffering. He is so caught up in his rich and comfortable lifestyle that he can become very self-centred and turned in on his own needs and enjoyment. As one scripture scholar put it, ‘the sin of the rich man was not that he did wrong but that he did nothing’. Don’t we say in the Confiteor when we ask God for pardon: “What I have failed to do”?
The gospel story is more than a denouncing of riches and how wealth can keep us isolated and even contemptuous of the poor and needy who might be right outside our door.
Unusually for a parable someone in the story is given a name. Surprisingly it is not the rich man but the poor man. He is called Lazarus, the name which means “God will be good to me”. Usually it is the poor and needy who are anonymous in the world’s value system. Very often we know the names of the wealthy and powerful. But those who according to the standard of power and social prestige are the most important are anonymous before God. Power and wealth are of no importance to God. In fact those who are considered insignificant and nameless are the ones who have value for God in his kingdom.
The punch line of the parable is at the end. Both men die and the one who had nothing has all in heaven but the one who had everything has nothing but his thirst. The drama increases when the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to him with water to quench his thirst. Next the rich man asks that Lazarus would go to his brothers to warn them so they would not also go to the place of torment. But he is told that they have Moses and the prophets. He agrees but if only someone came from the dead they would certainly believe and repent. Abraham tells him they would not even believe someone coming back from the dead because their hearts are so hardened. Isn’t this what happened when Jesus rose from the dead? Many Pharisees and Jews wouldn’t believe it. They were simply blind.
Where do I stand in all this? Where is my real trust – in God or in money and power only? I can still be poor and desire these and if I succeed I can become equally seduced by them. The Good News of course is that Jesus is giving us a ‘wake-up’ call before it is too late so that we do not suffer the same fate as the rich man. Perhaps we need to examine ourselves regarding our attitude to money and power and see whether the more we have leads us to think we need God less and less.
“Lord Jesus, open our eyes to the many ways we can be seduced by wealth. Free us from any wrong reliance on it that prevents us trusting more and more in you and sharing with the poor. Amen”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA