Life & Soul

Practical concern for the poor is at the heart of the Mosaic Law

A detail from The Rich Man and Lazarus by Hendrick Terbrugghen (1588-1629)

The 26th Sunday of the Year
Amos 6:1 & 4-7; 1 Tim 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31 (Year C)

Throughout the Gospels, and especially in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus described his mission in terms of the poor. Thus he had come to bring good news to the poor, to set prisoners free, and to give sight to the blind.

Without God we are all poor, but when we turn to the Lord, when we allow his Spirit to form our hearts, we shall, with Jesus, have a particular concern for those who are impoverished in any way.

A practical concern for the poor was one of the most distinguishing characteristics of the Law entrusted to Moses. The God who had heard the cries of his people insisted that they, in their turn, should never neglect or forget the stranger in their midst. It is therefore in our concern for the poor that our lives most clearly give witness to the God of love and compassion.

The prophet Amos was among the most confrontational of the Old Testament prophets. His words were addressed to the wealthy landowners of Israel’s northern kingdom: “Woe to those ensconced so snugly in Zion and to those who feel safe on the mountain of Samaria. Lying on ivory beds, they drink wine by the bowlful, but about the ruin of Joseph they do not care at all.”

The prophet could not contain his scorn at the injustice whereby the few lived in luxury at the expense of the poor. Israel’s Northern Kingdom had been blessed with a natural abundance, and yet, because of exploitation by the few, many lived in abject poverty.

The words of Amos have a contemporary echo in our global world. While some aspire to conspicuous consumption, many struggle simply to remain alive. A comparatively small group of rich nations consumes the greatest proportion of our planet’s limited resources. As Amos sounded his warning long ago, so global warming sounds its own warning to our generation.

We can no longer ignore the consequences of a world divided between rich and poor, nor can we ignore the blindness that so often accompanies self-indulgent wealth. This was the point emphasised by Jesus in the story of the rich man and the poor man Lazarus, who died at his gate.

The rich man feasted magnificently every day and was dressed in fine clothes. He was not accused of wishing the poor man harm: he was, in his self-obsession, simply blind to what lay before him. In death the roles were reversed. The words spoken to the rich man in his torment reveal the gulf that lies between self-indulgence and the heart of God. “Between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, to stop anyone, even if he wanted, crossing from your side to ours.”