True love helps us accept the plight of others as our own
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 29
Amos 6:1a,4-7; Psalm 146:7,8-9,9-10; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31
In 1976, Tom Wolfe coined the phrase “The Me Decade” in his article “The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening,” which was published by New York magazine. It was a phrase meant to designate the 1970s as a particular era of self-absorption, preoccupation with leisure and pleasure, and a general retreat from a communal worldview to an emphasis on personal fulfillment. This depiction of the world of 1976 then bore the term “Me Generation” as its offspring. As that was the same year I was born, I cannot say how accurate the claim may be, but it certainly seems an apt portrayal of several figures in this Sunday’s readings.
The prophet Amos has serious words to say about the Israelite culture of his day. “The complacent in Zion” are not attacked by Amos simply because they are affluent. Rather, it is in their disregard for the unfortunate and their seeming lack of consideration for the welfare of Israel that they become the object of Amos’ scorn. They lived in a particularly prosperous era of Israel, under King Jeroboam II. However, it was also a period of looming threat from Assyria, a threat that eventually would lead to the invasion and Assyrian occupation of Israel shortly after Amos’ times.
Despite this, the leaders of Israel “are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph.” To Amos, they do not seem very troubled about the defense and welfare of their nation. Instead, they remain self-indulgent with “beds of ivory,” “calves from the stall,” “couches” to rest upon, and the “best oils” to anoint and sooth their skin. They even “drink wine from bowls,” bowls which the Hebrew text connotes as sacred vessels reserved for ritual sacrifice, not for profane pleasures. In every sense, the leadership of Israel in Amos’ time has become completely absorbed in themselves with little consideration for the preservation of the common good.
SINS OF OMISSION
Similarly, the rich man in Luke’s Gospel seems to have utter disregard for the plight of Lazarus. The rich man is not condemned for “his purple garments and fine linen” nor directly for the fact that he “dined sumptuously each day.” Rather, it is for the fact that he entertained no thought for the needs of Lazarus “who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.”
That phrase depicts the practice of the time of wiping food from one’s hands by using scraps of leftover bread, which are then thrown to the ground and usually eaten by dogs. This is the degree of Lazarus’ poverty and misery — even the rich man’s refuse would have satisfied Lazarus, but the rich man, like the Israelite leaders of Amos’ time, could not see beyond his own desires and impulses and into the conservation of the good of others.
“Sins of omission” are sometimes overlooked, especially by the one who commits them, because they are not an imposition of physical or moral violence, as other sins are, but an absence of a good that ought to have been done. They are not sins of “what I have done” but of “what I have failed to do.” What Amos and Jesus present to us this weekend is a challenge to move beyond merely not harming our neighbor toward loving our neighbor to the degree that his or her plight becomes our plight.
Indeed, it is the message voiced by the Second Vatican Council that “everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as another self, bearing in mind above all his life and the means necessary for living it in a dignified way lest he follow the example of the rich man who ignored Lazarus, the poor man.” For, to do so is to truly “listen to Moses and the prophets.”
SHAWN REEVES has served as the director of religious education at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign since 2001. He and his family are members of St. Malachy Parish in Rantoul.