Twenty-Sixth Sunday of the Year
Luke is relentless and provocative in dealing with wealth and our proper relationship with wealth. Prosperity or abundance theology, that continues today, points to material wealth as a sign of God’s blessing and a negative judgment on poverty as was the case in biblical times. There is also the view that suffering in the present will later be compensated. Each view gives all power to God who decides the material wellbeing of people and thus exonerates us from responsibility for others. Jesus makes clear that God clearly sides with the poor, unimportant, broken and of no economic or social importance.
Pope Francis has said after condemning the ‘the globalisation of indifference’ towards asylum seekers that ‘comfortable living’ could cause a ‘gentrification of the heart……..the gentrification of the heart paralyses us.’
Being with and attending to suffering people, or kindness to all, are not prioritised as much as having power, wealth, seeking advancement at the expense of others, promoting and protecting oneself at the expense of the vulnerable.
In a gospel reversal, the poor who usually are nameless has a name and thus dignity. The one defined by position, status, and wealth rather than relationships remains anonymous. In Jesus’ world, those who have their human dignity trashed, their humanity degraded, are made a fuss of. The rich man’s behaviour was not unlike those who passed by the injured man by the roadside in the Good Samaritan story. They ‘see’ and cross the road. The Samaritan ‘sees,’ and ‘has compassion,’ and helps. Dorothee Sölle (Suffering, 1975) says, “When you look at human suffering concretely you destroy all innocence, all neutrality, every attempt to say, ‘It wasn’t I; there was nothing I could do; I didn’t know.’” Where there is suffering, one is either with the victim or the perpetrator. There is no other option.’ This is our neighbour. The parable is not concerned with the morality of riches and poverty but our neighbour’s humanity. The challenge is to put human faces on people at the gates of our institutions and nations with their contemporary sores such as unemployment, disability, seeking asylum, abuse domestic or otherwise such as sexual, physical, spiritual or psychological.
When the ’poor’ are just an abstract concept, they continue to be separated by a great gap from their more fortunate or privileged sisters and brothers. The responsorial psalm fittingly responds to the first reading. God remains faithful to those in need and calls us to respond. God works within the human condition to open our eyes, to free us from all that keeps hospitality and generosity.
We are invited to question our comfortable blindness. People in need call into question our priorities. Many people wilfully refused to look at or reconsider negative and untrue stories promoted to vilify asylum seekers, Indigenous people, Muslims and unemployed people. We might not admit it but many have a secret solidarity with Cain, who asks, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ Jesus and Amos insist that we are. St. John Chrysostom, states: ‘Remember this without fail, that not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth but theirs.’ Most would call this foolishness. Advertising wants us to focus on our wants, progress, not others’ needs. Jesus reminds us to open our eyes and hearts to the one at our door – whether the door of our nation, neighbourhood, church, or our home. Our affluence can as Pope Francis says, cause us ‘serious heart disease’ and social breakdown. Jesus’ audience could rightly say that they were not doing anything wrong except to enjoy what had come their way because they deserved it. The rich man (and his guests) did nothing worse than remain blind to an ailing stranger, a victim of cool indifference. Pope Francis calls us to listen to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. They are absolutely connected. Being deaf to one is being deaf to the other. We cannot close our eyes to the plight of people impacted by climate change or the disasters because of it; we cannot close our eyes to the victims of domestic violence, abuse, conflict and war. Families suffering because of droughts, floods, and changing weather patterns and unable to grow food and feed their families. Children have their futures limited because education is limited or denied (e.g., Afghanistan). Parents making impossible choices as they abandon their homes with their children to escape violence and other crises, unsure they will find hospitality.
Jesus’ ministry focused on the poor and outcast. The prophets provoked God’s people to be aware of the consequences for the way the poorest and most marginal-the widow, the orphan and the alien-are treated. The second reading calls for gratitude for whatever have, and to be generous. We are reminded that this world is God’s creation, God’s body, and we are part of this wondrous, precious and precarious web of being. We relate to God in the way we relate to creation and our fellow creatures. This interrelated understanding needs to permeate our ecology and economics, our social and political principles, and our personal decisions about where and how to live.
As we listen to today’s parable we need to check where our Eucharistic celebration occurs. Is it within a secure and comfortable ‘gated’ separation from people who are the ‘poor’ outside? Or, is it a challenge to our welcome to and service of them?
Pedro Arrupe, former superior general of the Jesuits said,‘If there is hunger anywhere in the world, then our celebration of the Eucharist is somehow incomplete everywhere in the world …… In the Eucharist we receive Christ hungering in the world. He comes to us, not alone, but with the poor, the oppressed, the starving of the earth. Through him they are looking to us for help, for justice, for love expressed in action. Therefore we cannot properly receive the Bread of life unless at the same time we give the bread of life to those in need wherever and whoever they may be.’
We can bridge the gap in many ways: by listening to peoples’ stories; by sitting with people in solidarity; by not judging how they came to be poor or whether one kind of poverty is more deserving than another; by personal generosity; by individual and group advocacy; by sharing that touches other peoples’ hearts; by ethical business investments and divestments; by not cooperating with dominating or oppressive systems; Nothing can break into and convert our hearts if we lock out the disadvantaged from our lives, because in them Jesus still sits begging at our gates.
So, ‘where is your brother? where is your sister? Who is your neighbour? It is the poor person; the hungry person; the lonely person; the person with disability; the person who is displaced and alone; the person in a disaster-affected community; the Indigenous people person in Australia and in the Amazon. None are abstractions. Paul sums it up today: ‘Pursue justice, pursue godliness, live faith and love, maintain endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith, take hold of the fullness of life to which you were called and for which you made your baptism in the presence of many witnesses.’ This is not just charity but justice. It is our business. Gustavo Gutierrez writes, ’The poor are a by-product of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible. They are marginalized by our social and cultural world. They are the oppressed, exploited proletariat, robbed of the fruit of their labour and despoiled of their humanity. Hence the poverty of the poor is not a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go and build a different social order.’ (The Power of the Poor in History, p. 44)
We live in a world of extremes – extreme poverty and extreme wealth. It can seem overwhelming. Mother Teresa who left the Loreto Sisters to establish the Missionaries of Charity gives us heart in response to this enormous task: ’We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.’ Though unable to do everything, or the same thing, we can and must do something. We need to identify the ‘some things’ we can do to help the Lazaruses in our world as well as our Common Home.