In the readings we heard, there are two kinds of neglect:
physical and spiritual.
The Gospel describes physical neglect.
The rich man was aware of Lazarus at his gate;
he knew who Lazarus was, he’d seen him before.
His sin wasn’t failing to solve Lazarus’ problems.
His sin was choosing not to do anything.
Perhaps he thought others would take care of him.
Maybe he figured Lazarus brought his troubles on himself
through bad choices – and for all we know, that was true.
You and I see lots of Lazaruses who wreck themselves
with booze and drugs and bad company.
But let’s cut to the heart of it.
There is a very simple and sharp lesson from the Gospel:
If you and I forget those in need, we will go to hell.
I’ll say it again: if we forget the poor, we will go to hell.
Now, very often we view these as political issues, and they are.
Some of us would say, the government must do more.
Others would say, what the government is doing makes it worse.
Those are legitimate points for a discussion elsewhere.
But nowhere does Jesus say,
you only have to help the needy when the government is well run.
Some might think this command only applies to the really rich, not us.
To most of the Lazaruses in this world, you and I are “rich.”
Considering the advantages most of us have, they are correct.
Pity the rich man: he spent his life thinking he had it all;
Yet in abandoning his fellow man, he lost his own soul.
Which leads to the spiritual neglect I mentioned;
That’s what is going on the first reading.
The prophet Amos is describing those leaders
who were in a position to help keep the nation on the right track.
But they didn’t care.
The king, his advisors, the priests and the people of importance,
were either promoting false worship, or else unwilling to rock the boat.
I think I am guilty of not doing enough to help the poor.
And maybe many of us feel the same.
But here’s something to think about.
No one is going to oppose us if we do more to feed people,
to provide clothing and vaccinations, and the like.
Everyone will approve of that.
But how do people react if we apply the same zeal
to addressing spiritual poverty?
A priest stands in the pulpit and says, go feed the poor.
But if I call attention to the debasement of our culture,
and say that there are places on the Internet,
and forms of music and entertainment that offend God…
If I insist that God has a plan for marriage and family
and none of us has the right to re-invent it…
And if I, like Amos, summon others to fasting and confession…
There might not be so much applause.
I might be lucky just to get silence.
And that doesn’t just happen to me—
it happens far more to you,
if you speak up at work, or with family, or in other settings.
So here’s the question: do we only believe in one kind of poverty?
That the only poverty that God cares about is physical?
That doesn’t make sense, does it?