The prophet Amos, whom we read today, strongly challenged the leaders of Israel during his time. He was a mere sheep breeder from Judah, but the Lord sent him to Israel to point out the hypocrisy and the injustice that the rich leaders of Israel were exhibiting. Amos describes for us their grand and luxurious lifestyle: “lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches,” eating fattened lambs and calves, drinking bowls full of wine, and anointing themselves “with the best oils.” On the surface, they seem to be blessed, living with the abundance that is a sign of God’s favor. But the prophet sees that beneath the surface of their self-indulgence there lurks a grave condition of corruption. Their luxury makes them oblivious and indifferent to the suffering of others. Amos points out that “they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph!” For the Israelites, descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob, that “Joseph” represents their family, their own brothers and sisters. Amos is basically saying: “you are self-indulgently enjoying everything in abundance, and yet you allow your own brother to suffer?” Such behavior is evil and shameful.

This prophecy prepares us for today’s Gospel, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The parable goes beyond describing the contrast between the lives of the rich and the poor; it is a strong warning against indifference. In this week’s Spiritual Reflection, Pope Francis shares that once, while he was visiting refugees, the word that came to him was “the globalization of indifference.” He explains it this way: “We are worried about our own problems. And we forget about starving children… poor people… forced migrants…. We live in indifference: indifference is the tragedy of being well-informed but not feeling the reality of others.” The rich man in the Gospel knew Lazarus; he was lying right at his door. In the afterlife, the rich man even recognized Lazarus at the side of Abraham. Alas, his knowledge of Lazarus was shallow; he did not feel for the reality of Lazarus’ poverty. He was too focused on himself and the privileged life that he enjoyed.

The Gospel focuses on the eternal consequences of indifference. The contrast between the rich man and Lazarus in this life – summarized in three sentences – merely sets the scene for the more important message about what comes afterward. The reading from Amos is what fills out our picture of the rich man’s attitude and lifestyle. But then comes the extraordinary reversal of fortune. Abraham explains it clearly to the rich man: “My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.” Abraham further says: “Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established.”

If we allow indifference to create a great chasm between our self-indulgence and our recognition of the real plight of others, we will find a great chasm between us and the eternal consolation we long for. If we spend our lives focusing only on ourselves and our desires, closing our ears to God’s call and our eyes to our needy neighbor, the afterlife will sadly be a continuation of such a closing in on ourselves. The tormenting flames represent an eternity consumed by passions that are never satiated. The rich man’s attitude is exposed in how he voices his plea: “Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.” Part of his eternal torment is that he is still obsessed with himself and is still looking down on Lazarus as someone who should serve him.

Both the prophecy of Amos and the parable of Jesus use familial names; Amos mentions Joseph, and Jesus mentions Abraham. For the Jews, Joseph and Abraham are family, they are patriarchs. This perspective shows us a path towards breaking through our indifference. If we want to break from our tendency toward self-indulgence, we must look upon and treat every person as a member of our family, as a brother or a sister. The parable hints at the importance of responsibility for others in the human family when the rich man eventually shows concern for his five brothers and their future. His pride and self-centeredness at last yield to concern for others – but too late. The lesson for us is clear: everyone we meet in this life, especially when they are in need, is our brother or sister, and we are called to be each other’s keeper (cf. Gen 4:9).

The prophecy of Amos is addressed to the nation’s leaders, and the parable of Jesus is addressed to the Pharisees. Part of today’s warning is that positions of power and privilege make us prone to indifference. How can we fight against this tendency? St. Paul instructs us through his Letter to Timothy, who has been appointed a religious leader himself, serving the Christian community in Ephesus.

First, Paul tells us, we must “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness.” Pursuing a life of virtue allows us to navigate positions of power and authority temperately. Second, he tells us to “lay hold of eternal life,” which means that we need to shape our earthly lives in light of our ultimate goal of eternal life. By giving us a valuable glimpse into the afterlife, the Gospel shows us what we need to work on now – that is, loving service of others as our brothers and sisters. If we live for others now, we will be better prepared to spend our eternity in communion with others in Christ.

Finally, Paul turns our attention toward Jesus Christ, the “King of kings and Lord of lords.” Whatever part we may have in roles of power and authority, they are only a share in the sovereignty of Christ himself. Our exercise of authority must follow the example of Jesus’ servant-leadership. He was rich, as the Gospel Acclamation reminds us, but he chose to become poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich. Detachment from wealth and power, and not entitlement, is key to breaking free from our dangerous tendency towards indulgence and indifference – so that we can reign with the Lord, “who dwells in unapproachable light…. To him be honor and eternal power. Amen!”

Does my lifestyle make me indifferent and oblivious to the suffering of others? How? What will be the lasting consequences if I focus too much on myself and not on the needs of others? How can I relate more with others as my brothers and sisters?

Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 7. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.