We Need to Help

09-29-2019Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

I find today’s theme and message about responsibility to be very significant. When times are good, folks tend to think that they personally are responsible for the good times; when times are bad, they look for someone else to blame. Usually we transfer blame onto other people; if that fails to fly, then it is God’s fault; and if that does not work, we excuse our self with all sort of fabricated reasons. If times are good, it is due to us; if times are bad, it is clearly due to someone else or something else. Our prophet Amos in the first reading suffers greatly because of the complacent irresponsibility of the people. The prophet warns the rich of imminent catastrophe, a turn-around in fortune.

Notice how in the Gospel passage Jesus begins his story in the here and now and then ends it in the hereafter. Pay particular attention to the contradiction and confusion of the two main characters: Lazarus and Dives (the rich man). The poor man at the end of the story lies not outside the gate, but in Abraham’s bosom at the banquet of the Kingdom, and the rich man is no longer eating fine foods inside the gates, but is thirsty and far away in a place of misery.

Both these readings are meant to make us pay attention and ask ourselves about our responsibility as a believer. Why was the rich man’s punishment so severe? Why does the supposed good and kindly father Abraham come off as being so strict? The reading does not say the rich man was guilty of making Lazarus poor. The story does not even suggest he knew about Lazarus. Indeed, no law of the land was broken. The question is of what, then, is the rich man guilty and therefore culpable? We learn his condemnation derives from something that never occurred to him to do.

It clearly never occurred to the rich man that he needed to grow in responsibility, to see—to recognize—the beggar at his gate, to recognize that the gifts he had been given were not his to hoard and use only for himself, but always to share with others. The rich man did not know that his position in life was not only a gift and benefit, but also a serious responsibility to utilize his gifts and benefits for the welfare of others, especially for the welfare of others like poor Lazarus. The moral lesson is this: we help because we can help. We do not dwell on whether the poor are responsible and “should pull themselves up by their bootstraps”. And if they do, then we would maybe consider helping them. Too often, we tend to think that what we have is ours alone, that we deserve everything we have.

Both Amos and Jesus are calling us to recognize that we are responsible for sharing our talents and accumulated material possessions with others. The “complacent in Zion” and the rich man of Jesus’ story were condemned not because they were malicious, but because they were obtuse and selfish and thus allowed their own possessions to be piled so high, that they could not see over them and see the needs of others. Our present American mainstream culture expresses a lot of anger at the poor, especially the immigrant. We have piled this anger and judgment extraordinarily high. These two readings tell us this anger is wrong and that we need to help because we can help.