The Sin of Indifference (I-Don’t-Care Attitude)
“Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall… who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” (Amos 6:4-6).
Last Sunday, we heard Jesus say to us: “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations” (Luke 16:9). Jesus went as far as using the story of a dishonest steward to teach us the need to prepare for the day of judgment. Today, Jesus employs His powerful storytelling technique again to deliver a message that has remained consistent Sunday after Sunday. What is this message?
1. Indifference is a Sin.
The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is very similar to the story of the Rich Fool whose lands yielded in abundance, but the difference is that while the latter ends with sudden death, the former tells us how the rich man ended in hellfire after his death. The question arises: “Is it a crime to be rich?” What exactly did the rich man do to deserve eternal punishment?
Amos answers this question in today’s first reading. Recall that last Sunday, we heard Amos speaking against social injustice and inequality; how persons cheat others by changing the scales, how they end up selling the poor for a pair for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals. Today, Amos continues his lament; he describes the lavish lifestyle of the super-rich who can afford the best of all that life could offer but “are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!”
The sin of the rich man in today’s Gospel passage is not in how he made his money (Jesus did not specify) but about his indifference to the poor and suffering. The rich man had enough money to host parties daily and feast sumptuously. Lazarus was attracted to his gate in the hope of feeding on the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table but sadly, no one gave him anything instead Lazarus’ sores became chocolate for the rich man’s dogs. One great man once said: “Evil triumphs in the world not because there are so many bad people but because of the indifference of good people.”
2. Indifference is Blindness.
Indifference to the plight of others is one of the great evils afflicting our world today. It is asking “what is my business?” when we can do something (no matter how little) to change another person’s story. Indifference is a form of blindness. Unlike the rich fool, God did not take the rich man’s life immediately. He had several opportunities to catch a glimpse of Lazarus, but was technically blind to him. Sometimes, we get into useless competitions with those we think are richer than we are that we fail to notice the poor around us. We find it very hard to count our blessings because instead of taking into consideration those in far worse conditions, we keep comparing ourselves with those we think are better.
The truth is that there are billions of poor people in the world; billions suffering from all kinds of circumstances. Even Jesus (responding to Judas Iscariot concerning the woman who anointed his feet with costly ointment), noted that: “you will always have the poor with you” (Matthew 26:11 & Mark 14:7). When we consider the enormity of poverty around us, we are tempted to ask; “What can I do? What difference can I even make?” These questions should not make us more indifferent, rather they should spur us to action. Jesus is not asking you to solve world poverty, instead, Jesus tells this story today so that we can open our eyes to see what is in our power to do. It wouldn’t have taken much from the rich man to help Lazarus, but he was too blind to notice.
3. God Hates Wastefulness.
In as much as riches are blessings from God who gives to his children in abundance, God hates wastefulness. Therefore, after working the miracle of the loaves, when the multitudes had eaten enough, Jesus ordered his disciples to gather the scraps left over (Cf. Mt. 14:20, Mk. 6:43, Lk. 9:17). Jesus tells us that the:) rich man wore purple clothes and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day. It is one thing to be properly dressed, but a different thing to wear the most expensive clothes in the world. Again, it is one thing to have three square meals a day, but a different thing to throw a feast (party) every single day.
One of the reasons we fail to help the poor is because we like to think of ourselves as poor when in fact, we do not notice our wastefulness. Rather than go for designer clothes, why can’t I go for the cheaper ones and use what is left to help one poor person who has no clothes to wear? Rather than cook a single pot of soup with fifty thousand naira, why don’t I cook the one of ten thousand and use the remaining forty thousand to help someone who has not eaten for many days now? As a girl for instance, rather than buy and fix human hair running into hundreds of thousands, why don’t I just plait my natural hair and use that money to buy sandals for poor school children who go to school barefooted daily. God is asking us today: “Where are your leftovers?”
4. Be Good to People Especially When You Do Not Stand to Gain from Them.
Why is that we humans treat people well when we consider them as beneficial to us and we treat others like flies when we feel they are useless to us? Let something bad happen to you and you will be shocked that even your friends who once licked the dust of your shoes will not even pick your call let alone respond to your message. This rich man who never gave Lazarus a cup of water to drink was asking for a little drop when he recognized Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom. So he even knew that someone like Lazarus was in existence!
Once upon a time, I saw a short video clip. Every morning, there was this destitute beggar at the entrance of the shop of a successful trader. To drive him away, the trader would pour a bucket of water on this beggar’s body but the beggar kept using the place as his bedroom. One day, the trader opened his shop, he had his bucket of water in hand but the beggar was not there. He became worried and for the first time decided to review his CCTV camera. The trader discovered that all that time he was maltreating the beggar (never for once did he give him anything to eat), this destitute beggar was always helping to fight off a group of armed robbers who come at night trying to burgle his shop. That night, they had stabbed the beggar to death and that was why he didn’t have anyone to pour water on. What a pity!
The fact that you feel someone is useless to you does mean you have the right to treat him or her like garbage. The poor, dirty, smelly human being you see and ignore daily is Jesus and if you do not recognise Jesus in him/her, you would not recognize Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.
5. Lazarus Has Come Back to Warn us.
The principal lesson of our Gospel passage today is found in the lips of the rich man. When he realized he could not get a drop of water, he cried: “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house– for I have five brothers– that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment” (Luke 16:27-28). This is where the story becomes a living reality in our lives. In truth, we are hearing this message as the brothers of the rich man and Lazarus is here already and he is warning us. Are you going to listen? Or are you going to prove Abraham right that even if someone rises from the dead, we would not repent?
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, break my cold heart of stone and teach me to recognize you in the poor. Amen.
Happy Sunday. Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Year C. Bible Study: Amos 6:1-7, Psalm 148 1st Timothy 6:11-16 & Luke 16:19-31)