September 23, 2022

Christ the Cornerstone

Strive to overcome indifference to people in need

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead’ ” (Lk 16:31).

Pope Francis frequently challenges us to pray for the grace to overcome the sin of indifference. When evil is happening all around us, or when we ourselves commit sins whose seriousness we deny, the resulting indifference can itself be gravely sinful.

Many of the sayings and parables of Jesus seek to open our eyes to this sinful condition.

The Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37) is an excellent example. A man is brutally beaten and robbed and left for dead. Two righteous men, a priest and a Levite who were preoccupied with maintaining ritual purity, pass him by without offering so much as a kind word or the promise to send help.

Because of their indifference to the suffering of a fellow countryman, they are guilty of aiding and abetting the evildoers who committed the actual crime. Only because of the kindness and generosity of a stranger from Samaria does the parable’s victim get the help he needs.

The Gospel reading for this Sunday (Lk 16:19-31), the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, also calls our attention to the seriousness of the sin of indifference.

The story of the unnamed rich man, “who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day,” but who ignores the plight of a poor man, Lazarus, “lying at his door covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table” (Lk 16:19-21) is an account of what can happen if we are indifferent to the needs of others.

The parable makes it clear that a life totally dedicated to self-satisfaction leads to the torment of loneliness and pain. No amount of pleading for mercy after the fact can mitigate the negative consequences of our indifference. In fact, while “death-bed conversions” are certainly possible, they are not something we should rely on. As the rich man learns the hard way, it’s much better to see the light, and change our ways now, than when it may be too late.

This Sunday’s first reading from the Book of the Prophet Amos is equally stark in its description of what can happen to us if we ignore the needs of others:

“Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts: Woe to the complacent in Zion! Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches, they eat lambs taken from the flock, and calves from the stall! Improvising to the music of the harp, like David, they devise their own accompaniment. They drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the best oils. … Therefore, now they shall be the first to go into exile, and their wanton revelry shall be done away with” (Am 6:1, 4-7).

Complacency, lying on our comfortable couches and focusing on satisfying our own self-centered desires, is a recipe for disaster.

In Jesus’ parable, Abraham tells the rich man plainly what the situation is: “You received what was good, Lazarus what was bad; now he is comforted, whereas you are tormented” (Lk 16:25).

Most of us react badly to this story. The rich man didn’t do anything. His punishment seems unfair. But, of course, this is the point. The rich man didn’t do anything when he clearly could have. He didn’t even give Lazarus, who was homeless and starving, the scraps from his table. Not doing anything can be seriously sinful, and our Lord lets us know that we will be held accountable for our sins of omission.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is always good news. But it is often “hard news” as well. None of us likes to hear that we will be held accountable for things that we think are beyond our control. What can we do about the complex social problems of our time—including hunger, homelessness, illness, drug addiction, racism, gun violence, human trafficking and so much more? Jesus does not expect us to solve all these problems by ourselves, but he does tell us—in no uncertain terms—that we cannot do nothing!

Prayer is a powerful action that is available to everyone. So is advocacy (urging elected officials to affect change).

Finally, every baptized Catholic has an obligation “to do something”—whatever he or she can to help our sisters and brothers in need. What can we do? Many opportunities are available to us through our parishes and Catholic social service agencies. We should become familiar with these opportunities and do whatever we can to help.

Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help us resist the powerful temptation to be indifferent and “do nothing.” †

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