Gospel reflection – Sunday September 26th

Amos 6:1a, 4-7; 1Tm 6:11-16; Lk 16: 19 – 31

Complacency. Arrogance. Indifference.

These are the vices both Amos and Jesus bring to our consciousness this week.  We aren’t talking about your garden variety version of this trio, however.  Especially in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, what is portrayed for us is a level of disconnect from one’s fellow human beings – in particular the poor and oppressed- that provides the foundations for eternal damnation.

“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuosly each day.   And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, coverd with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from therich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores (Lk 1619-21).”  The indifference the rich man exhibited towards Lazarus -even the dogs in the street did more for him – is clear from the text.  What I didn’t realize, however, until I took a trip to Pompeii some years ago, was just how stupendous this indifference was.

On our tour of Pompeii, the Roman city destroyed during the eruption of Vesuvius back in 79AD, the guide pointed out to us the remains of an entrance to a home which consisted of a small vestibule with a tiled floor.  The guide explained to us that in an urban setting such as Pompeii this is what the entrance to a rich man’s house looked like – no different than the door to any shop on the street.  The luxury lay inside, where a series of rooms formed the perimiter of a rectangular couryard, usually containing a garden and a fountain.  This garden, open to the sky, offered the wealthy  a retreat from the cramped conditions of urban life.  To exit and enter this paradise, however, the wealthy had to pass in and out of this one door to the street.

As I thought about this I began to think of Jesus’ parable in a different way. IfLazarus lay at the rich man’s door, that would mean each time the rich man went out he would have to step over Lazarus.  Every single day.  Yet there is no indication that the rich man ever even looked down.

The rich man does not achieve damnation because of anything he did to Lazarus.  He is damned because he had become so cut off from his common humanity with the beggar that he was not even aware the man existed. 

What are the implications of this parable for those of us enjoying a standard of living in the Western world that  most kings in the ancient world could not have fathomed while about a third of the world’s population tries to survive on one or two dollars a day?    

Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)

To find my book -length reflections on the Bible, go to www.twentythirdpublications.com)

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