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God's Word on Sunday: The well-being of people not negotiable

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  • September 22, 2019

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 29 (Year C) Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31

It is said that a society or nation can be judged morally and spiritually by what it does to the weakest and most vulnerable. One could also add what it allows or tolerates being done to them. 

Amos described the society of the northern kingdom of Israel in the mid-eighth century BC and it was not pretty. In many ways it is no different than our own time and situation. 

The wealthy and powerful few led a life of ease and pleasure on the backs of the many who had next to nothing. Beds of ivory, fine wines and music, and sensual pleasures paint a scene that would be at home in an old Hollywood movie. 

Elsewhere in his book, Amos raged against how the poor were treated — they were crushed underfoot, bought and sold for a pittance. In our own day, the lifestyles of the rich and famous, as well as those of some in the world of business and finance, are shocking in their excess and the yawning gap with the lives of ordinary people and the poor. 

In recent days, the media has treated us to glimpses of estates, resorts, ships, planes and other toys that would make a king or emperor envious. But that is not how God intended us to live. From the very beginning, we are told in no uncertain terms that we are the keepers of our brothers and sisters. Generosity, kindness and sharing are supposed to be the norm — our default — instead of the rare exception. 

With the predatory empire of the Assyrians looming on their eastern border, Amos struggled to rouse the collective conscience of the nation — especially the leadership — before it was too late. He warned those living the life of luxury that it would soon be swept away. 

Their wealth would be worthless; they would have to run for their lives and their nation would cease to exist. They could not presume on the strength of their structures to protect them. His words fell on deaf ears and it all came to pass. 

In 722 BC, the northern kingdom of Israel was gobbled up by the Assyrians and 10 of the ordinal 12 tribes of Israel disappeared. We should take warning in our own day. 

The well-being of the people, especially the most vulnerable, is never negotiable or optional. People are not entries in a budget sheet. They are created in the image and likeness of God, who holds them — and all of us — very dear. We can do no less.

The author of 1 Timothy exhorts believers to live in pursuit of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 

All of these qualities are closely bound with the manner in which we treat others and the degree of kindness, compassion and generosity that we express. True holiness is not something we work out with God in isolation — there is always a very clear and strong “we” component.

The day came when the wealthy man in the Gospel parable discovered to his horror that his money was worthless and his power and influence non-existent. His life had not been given over to cruelty but to something far worse: absolute indifference to the needs and suffering of other people. 

Lazarus had lain at his gate every day in dire need, but the rich man didn’t even notice him. Finding himself in the nether world suffering torment, he tried barking orders as he had always done: Tell Lazarus to bring me some water! But to no avail; his wealth and power no longer worked. 

We can only take love and kindness with us into the next world, and he had none. Lazarus would now be comforted, while he had to live with the consequences of his choices. 

He was a poor man indeed! He had missed out on the entire meaning of life — learning how to love. Even his attempts to send messengers to warn his brothers failed. Abraham pointed out that they had their religious tradition with its clear ethical instruction. Scare tactics do not work. 

Kindness must come from heart and it must be a way of life rather than a calculating chess move. The world faces many problems and crises, but the solution is very simple (not easy!): active compassion, justice, generosity and kindness. There are no shortcuts.

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