Fr John's Homily - Social Justice Sunday, Rich and Poor and Response

28 September 2019 | General Interest



Rich and Poor and Response

Lk 16.19-31     Amos 6.1-7     1Tim 6.11-16

Who has heard of Greta Thunberg?  To my mind, there was an extraordinary reaction to this young Swedish teenager’s appearance at the UN this last week, where she had been invited to speak from the perspective of youth about the future, the environment and the issue of climate change.  Locally, we’ve been reflecting in this first month of springtime on the wonder and beauty of the world in which we live, and surely care for the earth and its 7+ billion residents, and growing, should be at the heart of our concerns.  The facts are that we live on a planet of diminishing and finite resources, with a need for alternative means of energy.  Yes, it was an impassioned emotional speech, but so what?  We need striking and confronting wakeup calls for awareness of genuine issues about which we should all be well-informed.

And so, today’s Gospel imperative is to act now, in terms of concern for others.  The Lucan parable of  Lazarus and Dives prompts us to look at the reality of the division between poor and rich, and to see that Jesus’ teaching is a reminder of our responsibility to act on reducing this divide.  Catholic Social Teaching, particularly since 1890, has focussed on the rights of all humanity for sustenance, shelter, work, freedom and security, based on the Gospel. (It’s not a new story either, as we hear Amos the prophet attacking the complacency of the wealthy in the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 8th century BC, as he did last week too.)

There is no reference in the parable to the moral behaviour of either person in their lives, but there is clearly the moral responsibility of the rich man to consider the needs of those beyond his own comforts. It is his failure to recognize that he could and should have done something to relieve poor old miserable Lazarus of his hunger, distress and discomfort, when in fact, he is the miser, also in a miserable state of self-interest because of his callous disregard of a fellow human being. His indifference effectively caused the same sort of gap that he ironically ends up experiencing after his death.  He has caused his own irrevocable or irreversible predicament by not acting sooner.

Interestingly, once in the fiery furnace imagery of Hades, he does seem to have a concern for his own brothers (he’s not all bad!), but all too late.  One might have thought he would have liked some company down there, but more to the point is Jesus’ call to act now, and not procrastinate until it is all too late!  This seems to fit with the general need to look to the future and not just live in the present. 

As Claude Mostowik MSC states: “Following of Jesus needs to begin from the viewpoint of the poor and oppressed wherever and whoever they are”.  Pope Francis refers to ‘comfortable living’ causing ‘gentrification of the heart which can paralyze us’, and the ‘globalization of indifference’ in relation to asylum seekers.  Then he speaks of  ‘the seamless garment’ defence of the poorest and most vulnerable that also embraces the protection of the planet,  and ‘integral ecology’ linking social and environmental concerns.

The allusion too is to Jesus’ own resurrection, as Luke writes for a community where not all are convinced of the validity of Christian faith and life, no matter what stories are told about Jesus.  Faith is a personal commitment to be lived out by choice.  Christian believers need to be reminded of their ongoing responsibilities to look beyond themselves and share their resources.  It’s not literally a call for total reversal of lifestyle, but conversion in turning towards the needy and responding in practical ways.

The recent Social Justice document issued by the Australian Catholic Church, titled “Making it Real”  takes an interesting and unusual twist, in reflecting on the digital world in which we now live, not decrying this new media experience on which most of us depend, but encouraging us to use it for good, and not misuse it for wrong purposes, as is always the case with new technologies and tools.  There is no denying that the internet is an extraordinary resource for information and communication near and far. (Well beyond the $3 a minute for a phone call home from Canada when I was there in the 1980’s, and 2 or 3 week old “Age” newspapers I’d read at the Australian High Commission in Ottawa, where I lived for 3½ years!!)

At the same time, the subtitle is “Genuine Human Encounter in our Digital World”, reflecting on our need to maintain our face to face interpersonal relationships as well, not letting ourselves become detached from normal conversation, debate and engagement with each other.

Again, I quote Pope Francis (himself once a practising scientist in the  chemistry field!): “The digital world is a public square, a meeting place where we can either encourage or demean one another, engage in meaningful discussion or unfair attacks… Access to digital networks entails a responsibility for our neighbour whom we do not see, but is nonetheless real and has a dignity which must be respected… The encounter between communication and mercy will be fruitful  to the degree that it generates a closeness which cares, comforts, heals, accompanies and celebrates.”

Back to basics of the Gospel and Jesus’ teaching on the fundamental law of love is  expressed thus: “In order to make society more human, more worthy of the human person, love in social life – political, economic and cultural – must be given renewed value, becoming the constant and highest norm for all activity… guaranteeing the common good and fostering integral human development: love makes one see in neighbour another self.”  In relation to today’s Gospel, then, Dives should have seen himself reflected in Lazarus, but he wouldn’t.

An apposite Prayer from Pope Francis concludes the Social Justice Statement: “Lord, make us an instrument of your peace. Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion.  Help us to remove the venom from our judgements. Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.  You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:  Where there is shouting, let us practise listening; where there is confusion let us inspire harmony; where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity; where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety; where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions; where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust; where there is hostility, let us bring respect; where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.”  I find it impossible to express the challenge of the Gospel any more clearly than that.  Can you do any better?


john hannon                                                                               28th  September  2019


Commentator Julia Baird reflected on what she described as the ensuing “mass bullying of an earnest schoolgirl who accused world leaders of ‘stealing her dreams and childhood with their empty words. People are suffering; people are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!’  In response, she was called “mentally ill, and miserable and manipulated by older activists for sinister ends… deeply disturbed and strange…  an anxious girl… hysterical”, and unnecessarily upsetting other young people on the planet!   She was thus mocked by many, from Andrew Bolt to Pauline Hanson (claiming that, at 16, Greta had no life experiences), to Sam Newman, to that orange haired person POTUS, the usual suspects, really, reactionary types who play up living for the present and not willing to consider the broader picture of other perspectives beyond self-interest, narrow ideology and economic profit.

Greta’s response to her detractors is calm and balanced: “I honestly don’t understand why adults would choose to spend their time mocking and threatening teenagers and children for promoting science when they could do something good instead. I guess they must simply feel so threatened by us.” 


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