Sixteen year old Greta Thunberg showed up at the Climate Action Summit at the United Nations this week to offer a prophetic reprimand of world leaders’ response to climate change. The strength of her words were shared on social media and her warning echoed over and over again on those platforms. Her refrain of “how dare you” was aimed at the attending leaders to shake them out of a complacent sense that they are doing enough to address climate change. She decried their concern for economic growth and well-being over concern for the well-being of the earth. Her warning is reminiscent of the prophetic “woe to the complacent” offered by the prophet Amos in today’s first reading who warns against the comforts of wealth.
Today’s gospel continues this reflection on the complacency of wealth. The parable Jesus tells of Lazarus and the rich man is certainly about the fact that Lazarus’ human needs of food, shelter, clothing and medical care are overlooked by the rich man. He complacent in his wealth and fails to meet Lazarus in a way that shows compassion for his need. His is an attitude that allows a person as scripture tells us to lie “on beds of ivory” or dress in “purple garments” and “fine linen;” with little to no consideration for the human needs and basic comforts of others.
Webster defines the word complacent as “marked by self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.” The lack of awareness of which the rich man is guilty is one of Lazarus’ need. The rich man neither recognizes his need, nor is moved by his situation. He treats Lazarus as less than even in death as he pleads with Abraham to tell Lazarus to make the effort to mitigate his suffering; something he did not do for Lazarus while on earth. Even in death the rich man’s complacent nature shines through as gives instruction to Lazarus to serve him. The rich man is still focused on his own “self-satisfaction.” To this the prophet Amos says “woe to the complacent,” because they do not see beyond their own needs and self-interests.
As disciples we are called to look beyond our own needs and comforts and reach out to others, sharing the gifts of our livelihood. We are called to see our brothers and sisters in need as equal in their humanity, not less than because of their state in life, their smell, their addictions, their lack of education, their lack of employment or even their lack of ability to speak properly. As disciples we are called to do as the psalm for today instructs us to “lift up the poor; to secure justice for the oppressed and give food to the hungry.” (146: 7)
And so we can ask ourselves; Who are the Lazarus’ in our world? How do we meet the needs of those less fortunate than ourselves? How does our wealth make us complacent?