Ordinary Time 26, Year C-2010

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
Lord, you hear the prayer of the poor (Ps. 10:19—The Grail)

We have Moses and the prophets, for sure. Among other instructions, for instance, which promote protection for the poor and prohibit neglect of them is this one from Dt. 15:7-8 (NAB): “If one of your kinsmen in any community is in need in the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor close your hand to him in his need. Instead, you shall open your hand to him and freely lend him enough to meet his need.” And there is the railing of the prophet Amos against decadent affluence, which leads to sharp social divisions that indicate the exclusion of the poorer classes from sharing in the new wealth, to their being cheated and exploited, and to apathy towards the poor [1]. In the same vein as the prophet Isaiah, Amos also inveighs against the ritual observances of those who are unjust and callous towards the poor (Am. 5:21-24; Is. 1:13-16).

Unfortunately, however, there are those of us who for love of money and hunger for human esteem sneer at the Law and the prophets (cf. Lk. 16:14-15). We do not always pay heed to Mosaic and prophetic pronouncements. Maybe listening is a problem because of time constraint: we are too busy consuming and producing, buying and selling, marrying, trying to gain the whole world, or getting ready for a party (cf. Lk. 14:18-20; 10:41-42; Mt. 16:26). It is possible, too, that our inattention is born of our certainty that we are first, not last, part of God’s chosen people, not pagans, that we have Abraham as a father and are free, therefore, not slaves, endowed with all the rights, privileges and inheritance guaranteed to sons and daughters (cf. Mt. 3:8; Jn. 8:33). Or, perhaps, we are convinced we do not need to listen to anybody’s advice, thinking we already have it made, thanks to our pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and deeming we deserve to dispense advice to the poor to do as we have done, so that they too can build bigger barns, and enjoy life (cf. Lk. 12:17-19). Absorbed thus in soliloquies and self-congratulations, we become even more deaf to Moses and the prophets and, consequently, to the cry of the poor.

Accordingly, we do not see anything wrong or disconcerting with a scene wherein juxtaposed are both extreme wealth and extreme poverty: a nameless rich man, dressed in purple garments and fine linen, dining sumptuously, which he does each day, while thrown down there at his gate is a beggar, appropriately named Lazarus, a derivative of Eleazar, which means “God helps,” covered with sores, which unclean dogs lick and thus renders him unclean also, longing to eat what falls from the rich man’s table. In other words, we accept unquestioningly the presence of the poor as simply part of the landscape [2]. We take it as just part and parcel of life: that some people enjoy sumptuous and hearty meals daily and wear expensive clothes, and others have nothing; that some live very luxuriously, while others live very miserably; that some throw away food that others scrounge for [3]; that in 2005 the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 76.6% of total private consumption, while the poorest fifth just 1.5% [4]. And perverting the saying, “The needy will never be lacking in the land,” by disregarding what immediately follows that reads, “That is why I command you to open your hand to your poor and needy kinsman in your country,” and failing to take into account the earlier statement, “There should be no one of you in need” (Dt. 15:4, 11) [5], we even say sometimes that the poor have only themselves to blame and that the rich are commendable for bringing blessings upon themselves through their efforts and hard work.

But if we are not bothered the least bit by this glaring inequality and keep neglecting the poor and insulating ourselves from them, such a fundamental option on our part eventually turns irreversible at the time of reversal—when the insider turns outsider and the outsider insider—and makes for the fixing of an unbridgeable chasm between the place of comfort and the place of torment [6]. If in this life we refuse to consider the poor as brothers and sisters, even in torment in the next life we will continue to see the poor as errand boys and girls at our beck and call. Then, indeed, there is no brother or sister who can help us where “there is not Greek and Jews, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Schythian, slave, free, but Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:11; Rom. 10:12; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:28). Moreover, if Jesus’ resurrection did not persuade many of his contemporaries, neither will anybody else’s rising from the dead persuade those of us who do not now listen to Moses and the prophets.

And if we do not hear the cry of the poor, if we ignore or humiliate those who have nothing, we definitely cannot celebrate the Lord’s Supper without eating and drinking judgment on ourselves (1 Cor. 11:20-22, 29). Deserving, methinks, of double dose of judgment are those who, claiming to be men and women of God, and also followers of St. Vincent de Paul, partake in the Eucharist and celebrate his solemnity without pursing justice, without bearing witness to Jesus who became poor to make us rich (2 Cor. 8:9), without assisting the poor and having them assisted in every way in their spiritual and temporal needs by themselves and by others [7].


Notes

[1] Joseph Telushkin, Biblical Literacy (New York, NY: William Morrow and Co., Inc., 1997) 312-318.
[2] William Barclay, And Jesus Said (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1970) 97.
[3] Cf. http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Luke/Generosity-Handling-Money (accessed September 23, 2010).
[4] http://www.globalissues.org/issue/235/consumption-and-consumerism (accessed September 23, 2010); cf. also http://www.worldwatch.org/node/810 (accessed September 23, 2010).
[5] Dennis Hamm, S.J., “Dodging Faith’s Call, http://americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=4693 (accessed September 23, 2010).
[6] Cf. Barbara E. Reid, O.P., “The Bridgeable Chasm,” America (September 13, 2010) 46.
[7] Cf. P. Coste, XII, 87.