Photo by Aachal on Unsplash

God's Word on Sunday: Our hearts must be open to the other

  • September 25, 2022

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Sept. 25 (Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31)

It is said that the opposite of love is not hatred but indifference — especially to the well-being and happiness of others. The northern kingdom of Israel had grown incredibly corrupt and unjust during years of prosperity. Some had grown obscenely wealthy and powerful, and they were dedicated to living the good life of luxury, comfort and abundance. The plight of the increasing numbers of poor people did not even enter their awareness.

But Amos was not impressed. Although he was from the southern kingdom of Judah, he preached in the north in the mid-eighth century B.C. He warned of impending disaster, which would come in the form of an Assyrian invasion. All of these signs of wealth and luxury would be swept away and utterly destroyed, and the wealthiest and most corrupt would be the first to go into exile. The life of the nation was no longer based on the God-given principles of equality and justice, but on selfishness and greed. He tried mightily to awaken their consciences and bring about a conversion of hearts.

But it was not to be — his warnings went unheeded, and in 722 B.C., the Assyrian killing machine annihilated the nation. Many were killed, some went into exile, and the so-called lost 10 tribes of Israel simply vanished.

His warning was for everyone, for he took a swipe at those who were at ease in Zion, which was the southern kingdom of Judah. His warning is also for us. Whenever we as an individual, group, nation or Church fail to act with justice and compassion by being attentive to the poor, vulnerable and suffering, we stand under judgment. God does not have to punish us, for by selfish and uncaring behaviour and attitudes, we set negative forces in motion that will overtake us. We see this all around us today, where so many hearts have been hardened against immigrants, the poor, those who are different in any way and those who worship differently than we do. It has already torn our world apart and it cannot change for the better until we collectively have a conversion of minds and hearts.

But it always begins with each of us, and we cannot shirk our responsibility by blaming others. The author of 1 Timothy knew this and he exhorted believers to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness — all the ingredients for a saintly life and a transformed world. And it is something we must do constantly, not just sporadically. He urges us to treat this pursuit with the intensity worthy of battle — take hold of eternal life and never let go. Light attracts light, so the intensity of the light within us will draw us closer to the eternal God who dwells in unapproachable light.

In this story, similar to many in the ancient near east, Lazarus suffers through a life of abject misery — poverty stricken, homeless and covered with sores. The rich man has been affected by that peculiar fog that settles on many people that blinds them to the suffering and needs of others. Lazarus was in plain view of the rich man but was absolutely invisible to him. The rich man’s sense of importance and entitlement carried over into Hades. When he saw Lazarus being comforted by Abraham, he tried barking orders. Send Lazarus with some water! But Abraham broke the bad news: his wealth and entitlement did not extend to Hades.

The wide chasm that separated them was the barrier between those who love and those who do not. Even the rich man’s entreaties that messengers be sent to warn his brothers were refused. Like so many, he thought to redo his ungodly life after the fact. He was convinced that if someone returned from the dead to warn his brothers they would listen.

But no: we already have in our religious traditions whatever we need to guide our lives. We need no revelations, apparitions or voices from the beyond. We know what we need to do: turn our focus from self to others and open our hearts.