In this Sunday’s 1st Reading, Amos prophesied to the Israelites “Woe to the complacent in Zion.” The Israelites had grown complacent because of their wealth and luxurious living, a complacency that blinded them to the needs of the poor.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us the story and fate of one complacent rich man who daily ignored the sufferings of one poor man, Lazarus, who sat on his doorstep.
Traditionally this has been known as the Story of “Dives and Lazarus”. Dives is from the Latin for “rich man” and “Lazarus” from the Greek for “God has helped.”
The rich man “Dives” is dressed in purple, implying he is not just rich but exceeding rich, who dines sumptuously each day, implying not just a meal but a daily banquet.
In contrast Lazarus “God has helped” was a poor man, living on the rich man’s doorstep, covered in sores and so hungry he “would have gladly eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table” but got none.
And then death comes to both and with death a great reversal. Dives is in the netherworld in torment and Lazarus is being consoled in the bosom of Abraham.
What was Dives’ sin? The story doesn’t accuse him of immorality. He may very well have been a pious man, praying, fasting and offering generously in the Temple. But, it seems, his wealth and luxurious life style had lulled him into a complacency that blinded him to the needs of the poor, specifically the needs of the poor suffering Lazarus. We call this the sin of omission, not doing what we have an obligation to do. At death he is judged and is in torment for what he failed to do.
He pleads with Abraham for some relief.
“Abraham, send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and then come and touch and cool my tongue.”
“No my child, death has established a great chasm that cannot be crossed.”
Dives then pleads for his five brothers who he knows will share his fate if they do not repent. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his five brothers to warn them.
“No, God sent them Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.”
“But Abraham they will not listen but if you allow someone (presumably Lazarus) to rise from the dead and warn them – then they will listen.”
“No, if they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded even if someone should rise from the dead.”
These are sobering thoughts that can just as easily be applied to us who live in one of the richest countries in the world. If Amos were alive today he might just as well say, “Woe to the complacent in Ocean City!”
We hear Moses and the prophets in the Mass reading every Sunday and we are in the presence of someone who rose from the dead, Jesus Christ, who is present to us, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist. When you receive Jesus today ask him to shake any complacency that lingers in your hearts. It was too late for the rich man but it’s not too late for us.