The gospel story of Lazarus and the poor man is powerful. The rich man had it made. He had not a worry in the world. He was well dressed and well fed. His life style was a lot like that of the people Amos went after in our first reading. Stretched out on beds of ivory, eating the best of food, enjoying their own music while completely oblivious to the social ills that surrounded them.
This rich man was probably not an evil man. He may have worked hard for his money. Luke says, ‘he loved it.’ When we really love something or someone it can become the centre of our lives. Obviously his money meant more to him than the suffering beggar at his door. But he never drove Lazarus away from his gate, he never set the dogs on him, he may have thrown him some of the leftovers from his table. He was convinced he was entitled to his life style, he was probably convinced that this is the way things are meant to be, there are the ‘haves’ and the ‘have knots.’ He saw no need to change things. He could have been sure that this is the way God meant things to be.
In death he knew things differently. The good things he enjoyed in life were of no good to him in his torments. Lazarus, who in life had little, in death had everything.
The rich man’s appeal to Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers to shape up went nowhere. As Abraham said, “if they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, if they are deaf to their long Jewish tradition of caring for the poor and needy, they will be deaf to someone who comes back from the dead.”
What does this gospel say to us? Compared to other people in other lands we are really well off. Our life style is at the expense of countless people in other lands. We are living high on the hog. But forget about global issues – what about the social conditions here in our own city. How conscious are we, how concerned are we about the homeless men, women and children in our city of Toronto? What do we care about the families who depend on food banks or the children who go to school hungry? Are we aware of the Lazarus’ in our own community?
There was a great letter to the editor of the Star last Tuesday – it echoes the concerns of the prophet Amos: “I am amazed and horrified that the people of Ontario have allowed the major political parties to sabotage the true election issues by focusing on the faith-based school funding. Hungry children can’t learn. Families living in unsafe and substandard housing can’t provide a secure environment to foster learning. People earning the minimum wage or less can’t provide the necessities of life for their families. The poor who live on the streets without basic health care suffer from myriad health problems. Without clean air and water, Ontario’s environment will be unsustainable. Without a supply of knowledgeable workers our economy is in jeopardy. Poverty, the economy and the environment are the main election issues. Parties need to address them and share their policies with the electorate so that we can make informed choices on Oct. 10.”
I love this letter. It goes to the heart of the matter. Is it because we are indifferent to the needs of the poor, the homeless, those trying to survive on the minimum wage; is it because we take clean air and water for granted; and is it because these issues make us uncomfortable that we allowed ourselves to be distracted by this issue of faith-based school funding? For sure such funding is a matter of justice but the issues named in this letter are far more pressing. What a difference it might make if the media spent as much time covering these issues as it did covering the matter of funding faith-based schools.
Amos was expressing a holy discontent with the social indifference that let people ignore the poor and needy of his day. Jesus’ parable was doing the same. His story challenges all those who are content with the way things are, who see it to be quite normal that there be the ‘haves’ and the ‘have knots’ especially when they are among the haves.
As we continue the celebrate our Eucharist and are nourished by the bread of life, we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we be blessed with a holy discontent with the social ills and injustices of our city and province and find a way to question those who seek our votes as to whether or not they share in our discontent and judge them accordingly.