Monday, 1 October 2007

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

“May you bear witness to the love of God in this world so that the afflicted and the needy will find in you generous friends and welcome you into the joys of heaven”. Do you know where you get to hear this? At a wedding… and it is part of the final blessing at the end of the celebration. I am amazed and yet humbly thrilled by how scriptural Catholicism is because the blessing of a married couple makes a reference to our Gospel for today. Furthermore the blessing is contextualised because the reference arises presumably because it has something to do with the fact a wedding is associated with feasting and the context of today’s gospel is hunger in the midst of plenty.

Today we are called to reflect on how to be personally responsible in a situation of hunger in the midst of plenty. As long as there are hungry stomachs and there is food wastage, it is a scandal.

Last week I spoke about the unhelpful categories of rich and poor. Today this is somewhat confirmed because in the Gospel we have just heard, nowhere is it mentioned that Jesus condemned the Rich Man because he was rich. In fact he was condemned because he was blind. Thus, we are reminded of a blindness which is not amoral but deeply moral and deeply ethical. It is fascinating that the rich but blind man is not named except in some translations he’s known as “dives” which in Latin simply means rich whereas the starving man is named Lazarus which literally means God has helped.

The name itself shows where God’s preference is and how we cannot afford to be blind to God’s preference. In the first reading, our social justice prophet Amos is clearly pointing out that we should not be caught on the wrong side of God in the area of accountability and personal responsibility.

Accountability is the uncomfortable link between the unhelpful categories of the rich and the poor. The nature of our accountability is that the more you are blessed, the more accountable you will need to be. The discomfort we feel has something to do with our lack of trust and may also arise from our understanding that there is only so much that we can share—which is usually translated into there is never enough to be shared.

Take a moment to reflect: the scandal of hunger in the midst of plenty is not that there is not enough. In fact, the scandal is precisely because there is more than enough. Here, let’s make a shift. We are accustomed to think of sin from the perspective of weakness. We are accustomed to thinking that due to our weakness we fall into the sin of jealousy or envy, anger or grudges, disobedience and lies. As it were, sin is a manifestation of weakness.

But what is actually pointed out in the parable of Dives and Lazarus is that Dives sinned in the area of “his strength”. Dives could have done something for Lazarus but he did not. [In fact, the presence of dogs in the parable in a sense condemns Dives. Dogs along with pigs are considered to be animals of the lowest kind and thus to have dogs licking his wounds, indicates that Lazarus is nowhere to be found in the radar-screen of human dignity.] We often sin not out of weakness but out of the failure to act upon our strength. Instead of doing something because we can, what we do is to turn a blind eye to those in need.

We sin so much more when we do nothing. I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have sinned through my own fault—in what I have done and what I have failed to do. “Failed to do” indicates that we have failed to act when we can. Therefore, it is also a failure of accountability.

The world we live in has also shrunk. What may be thousands of miles away is now brought closer in a few seconds. [Case in point is the “Saffron” revolution in Burma which through the media has become so immediate]. And a consequence of immediacy is that our accountability is also widened. A way of understanding accountability is to look at our involvement. It is a fact that we will never be able to feed all of the hungry but the truth is that, no matter how circumscribed we are, no matter how constrained we are, we are never far from the demands of accountability. Even though we can’t feed all the hungry, we are still not powerless. What we can do is “not to over-eat” and not to waste food. These are two major sins we are guilty of, made even more scandalous because there are people who still go to bed hungry.

If you are rich, rest assured that you will never go to hell because you are rich. But you might go to hell because you are not sensitive to those who are hungry. In other words, make sure you are a poor man’s friend (or a hungry stomach’s friend). It is not a matter of condescension or a matter of patronising the hungry. As the blessing at the end of the marriage ceremony suggests, the welcoming party in heaven is made up of the poor. I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was naked and you clothed me, in prison and you came to visit me.

Our involvement with the hungry is important as a measure of our accountability. The hungry are our ticket to heaven. In the life of every saint, you will find some references to their friendship with those who are poor and are in need of food. It is not so much the avoidance of sin that will gain us to heaven. Rather it is the good that we can do (especially and as real as to feed the hungry) that will open the gate of heaven for us.