Homily: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
“An Inconvenient Truth” is the title of a 2006 documentary of former United States Vice President Al Gore’s efforts to raise awareness about “global warming” and to promote efforts to help combat it. The title of the film used Mr. Gore’s own words, who called global warming an “inconvenient truth”. “Inconvenient” since efforts to combat it demand that we all choose to give up many of our modern conveniences; or, at least, to modify them so as to minimize their “carbon footprint”: a generic term indicating the impact that a certain thing or process has on global warming.
This week there were “Climate Change” summits in both the US and Canada. “Climate Change” has replaced “Global Warming” as the word that is being used to describe the impact that our modern world is having on our global environment. It’s a broader term, indicating that excessive “change” (not just “warming”) is something with which we should be concerned and so work to combat it. The change of term does not change the inconvenience of the truth, however, and so activists continue to work to raise awareness and to promote both large-scale and small-scale change in society so as to combat it.
Unfortunately, in my humble opinion, alarmism has seemingly taken over what ought to be a very valuable discussion: that is, how we all ought to work together to make changes in our own lifestyles that can slow the rate of change and, thus, truly care for our environment. “Governments must fix this”, is not the answer here; rather, every-day Joes, like you and me, need to make decisions every day about trips we take, products we purchase, and energy we consume if we wish to make a difference. Take that “mindfulness” to a global scale and, all of a sudden, we could find ourselves feeling much less alarmed about our effects on the environment. ///
Today in our Scripture readings, we are presented with another “inconvenient truth”. This one is the truth about the responsibility of the rich to the poor. Perhaps the majority of us here wouldn’t consider ourselves “rich”; and, when considered on the income spectrum of those living in the United States, we’d probably be correct. When considered on a global spectrum, however, that certainly changes. Income that would be considered at or below the “poverty level” here in the United States would still place a person well into the upper levels of income in other, less-developed nations. Regardless, however, even if we don’t consider ourselves “rich”, it is also likely that we are not “poor”, either; and so, we should take heed of the inconvenient truth presented by our Scriptures today.
The parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus is probably quite familiar to us, and so I’d like to spend a little time going through what the prophet Amos is criticizing in the first reading. I’m not sure we understand the excesses he is describing there and so let’s take a closer look. Amos’ dire prophecy stems from the habit of indulgence at feasts in which the wealthy regularly engaged. He speaks of the couches on which they reclined to eat, which were luxuriously appointed with inlaid ivory and whose comfort invited them to spend long hours at meals. He then speaks of the meat on which they daily dine. Yet, at the time, a diet of meat was almost unknown. Animals were peoples’ livelihood. They were means of transportation or of carrying out work. They produced wool and milk and other products useful for life. Only occasionally, then, were they slaughtered for a meal; and, usually, (if not exclusively) in conjunction with some religious sacrifice. Therefore, that the rich are dining on calves and lambs—the very animals most often used in sacrifice—is another sign of their extravagance. They anoint themselves with costly fragranced oils and, instead of drinking wine out of cups (something which would promote some level of restraint), they drank it out of bowls (all the better to gulp the wine, instead of sip). Old Testament prophets aren’t usually given to exaggeration, but even if it were so, in this case, we could still picture the extravagance with which the rich splurge with their wealth.
Like the parable from the Gospel, however, it is not so much the extravagance of the rich that the prophet condemns; rather, it is the indifference paid to their poor brethren that is the core of the prophet’s judgment. For Amos, and at a time when the tribes of Israel were split between the north and the south, it was the indifference of those who lived in Judah—and Jerusalem, specifically—to the plight of their kinsman of the northern tribes who were suffering from an unraveling of their society, in which poverty was widespread. It is their indifference that will bring condemnation upon them and they—that is, the wealthy of Judah—who will suffer the disgrace of exile first. This reversal of fortunes because of the indifference of the rich to the poor is best described in Jesus’ parable when, as the rich man, now suffering torment in the afterlife, asks Abraham to send Lazarus to help ease his suffering and hears this reply: “My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.” Lazarus was a kinsman to the rich man and his indifference to his kinsman led him to eternal suffering.
This is the “inconvenient truth” that the Scriptures present to us today: that we, who enjoy what is good during our lifetime will be judged for how we treated those who received what was bad in theirs. Do we treat them as kinsmen—that is, brothers and sisters who have a claim on our compassion and help? Or do we treat them with indifference: enjoying the good in our lifetime without much concern for the bad that they are receiving? The Scriptures make it clear that we must treat them as our brothers and sisters if we expect to inherit the eternal life of happiness that Jesus has won for us.
Many of us, of course, do what we can to help the materially poor around us. And this is good! This weekend, however, as the Church celebrates the World Day for Migrants and Refugees, I’d like to highlight that this “inconvenient truth” also demands that we remove all indifference to migrants and refugees who seek help from us to have a better life. Help, first and foremost, to achieve better living conditions in their native place, then, secondly, help to be received with generosity here if they are no longer able to remain there. To do either, however, we will have to give up some of our own comforts (that’s why the truth is called “inconvenient”), but to do so is to fulfill the will of God, who loves the poor and hears them when they cry out to him in need.
My brothers and sisters, as Saint Paul once wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, man nor woman, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Therefore, let us renew our commitment to this “inconvenient truth” that is presented to us today and seek to root out all indifference to our less-fortunate brothers and sisters and so help them. Just as we, who are poor beggars before God, have been welcomed to this banquet of God’s love and mercy, let us show our thanksgiving by opening our lives to those around us who are suffering and, thus, prepare ourselves and those around us for the eternal life of comfort and consolation that God has prepared for us.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – September 28th & 29th, 2019