Father Donald Senior, CP

Sept. 29: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Indifference or encounter?

Am 6:1, 4-7; Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10; 1 Tm 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31

Pope Francis is an extraordinary champion of the poor and vulnerable. In that vein, he often contrasts what he calls a “culture of indifference” with a “culture of encounter.” Recently he told a group of Asian bishops: “We are accustomed to a culture of indifference and we must strive and ask for the grace to create a culture of encounter, of a fruitful encounter, of an encounter that restores to each person his or her own dignity as a child of God, the dignity of a living person. We are accustomed to this indifference, when we see the disasters of this world or even small things: ‘What a shame, poor people, look how they are suffering,’ and then we carry on.” So many examples swirl around us that we become used to human suffering and human tragedy and turn away our gaze. For many of us, it is not a matter of being cold-hearted or inhumane, but, over time, absorbed by our own concerns, we become “indifferent.”

Another time, the pope pointed to a kind of “indifference” that can seep even into our family relationships: “In our families, at the dinner table, how many times while eating, do people watch the TV or write messages on their cell phones. Each one is indifferent to that encounter. Even within the heart of society, which is the family, there is no encounter. May this help us to strive for this culture of encounter, just as simply as Jesus did so. Not just see but look. Not just hear but listen. Not just meet and pass by but stop. And don’t just say ‘what a shame, poor people,’ but allow ourselves to be moved by pity. And then draw near, touch and say in the language that comes to each one of us in that moment, the language of the heart: ‘Do not weep,’ and donate at the very least a drop of life.”

In his challenging encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’,” the pope acknowledges that sometimes the enormity of the problems we face can discourage us and we can fall back into a kind of indifference, or a moral numbness. But here the pope reminds us of St. Therese of Lisieux’s “little way of love.”  “A kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship … which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness.”  In so doing, the pope notes, we can contribute to building a “civilization of love.”

I thought of Pope Francis’ words in the light of the readings for this Sunday. As we did last week, we hear again the strong and blunt words of the Amos the prophet, excoriating the “complacent in Zion,” a biblical example of the culture of indifference, people who are “stretched comfortably on their couches,” dining on delicious lamb and veal, drinking their wine from bowls, all the while indifferent to the suffering of the people around them.

And how else can we interpret Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus in today’s Gospel, except as a challenge to a culture of indifference?  The rich man finely dressed and “dining sumptuously each day” while at his very doorstep is “a poor man named Lazarus.” Lazarus, “covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.” His only comfort is the dogs that come and lick his sores!

Jesus’ story goes on to describe a great reversal of fortune. When Lazarus dies, he is carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham, while the rich man languishes in the netherworld in torment. Interpreters point out that the rich man still hasn’t learned his lesson — asking Abraham to send Lazarus, as if still a slave to do his bidding, with a drop of water to cool his tongue or at least to warn his brothers who are still alive. But it will not be so in God’s house.

To be a follower of Jesus, we must strive to create a culture of encounter, to build, even in small gestures, a “civilization of love.” 



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