- Bible Reflection (25 Sep 2022)
26th Sunday Year C
The sin of complacency.
My brother and sisters, are we complacent in our faith? Many of us are, without even realising.
The prophet Amos lived in the times of the divided kingdom, where there were two Jewish kingdoms – one in the north called Israel; and one in the south called Judah. In the First Reading this week, the prophet Amos was preaching to the rich in the northern kingdom of Israel. The prophet sounded a warning to “the notables of the first of the nations” (verse 1), “those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, … who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils” (verse 4-6). For in spite of their great wealth, they ignored the plight of the poor, they were oblivious to “the ruin of Joseph” (verse 6). Amos went on to prophesise that these heartless rich would be the first to suffer the pain of exile. True to the prophesy, within a generation, Israel fell to the Assyrians. But as we will see later, there is worse fate than being punished on earth.
As believers, we know that life on earth is but a transition. We know that even if we live for 100 years on earth, our life is but a flash compared to eternity. We know that the rewards of this life are not our final rewards; and the sufferings of this life are not out final sufferings. Indeed, as believers, all of us want to go to heaven when we die, where we will live in everlasting joy and peace in all eternity. We also know that the path to heaven does not come from wealth, power and honour that we strive so hard for on earth. Instead, Jesus taught us the way to heaven is through the narrow gate (Mt 7:13). My brothers and sisters, to enter through the narrow gate is to put on the heart of Jesus – in the way He sacrifices; the way He loves; the way he serves; the way He forgives; and the way He always proclaim the truth. In the Second Reading this week, St Paul spoke about Jesus’ “testimony before Pontius Pilate” (verse 13). What was Jesus’ testimony before Pilate? It is this: in spite of being in grave danger; and in spite of knowing Pilate had the power to free Him or kill Him, Jesus never took the political convenient option. Undeterred, He continued to proclaim the truth: “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (Jn 18:37)
So for us believers, the choice is clear. We ought not to repeat the mistake of the rich in the First Reading. We ought to forgo our endless quest for wealth, power and honour. Instead, we ought to focus on self-sacrifice, love, services, forgiveness and truth. But how many of us actually do that? The truth is, not many. Why is that the case? Are we not believers? Do we not understand Jesus? In fact, we are and we do! But in spite of that, we are unable to focus on heavenly things; we are too distracted by earthly things. What is the reason for that? The key reason is: we are complacent. Even though we know we do not live forever on earth, we think and behave like the opposite. We do not want to think about eternal life because it inconveniences us. So we pretend our life on earth is all there is. In truth, complacency is a form of laziness. It is a manifestation of the deadly sin of sloth. A complacent person is like the chain smoker who could not stop smoking in spite of knowing that smoking will kill him. Then one day, when he is diagnosed with lung cancer, almost magically, he quit smoking. But it is too late.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. Lazarus was a poor homeless man lying at the gate of the rich man. He was poor and hungry. He lost all his dignity that “even the dogs would come and lick his sores” (verse 21). Meanwhile, the rich man “was dressed in purple and fine linen” and “feasted sumptuously every day” (verse 19), all while not sparing even a thought for Lazarus languishing outside his gate. Then both men died. Lazarus “was carried away by the angels” to heaven (verse 22); while the rich man was tormented in hell. There was no suggestion that the rich man’s wealth was unlawfully acquired, neither was there any suggestion that he was responsible for Lazarus’ misfortunate. So what did the rich man do wrong? Indeed, his greatest sin was complacency. Like the rich in the First Reading, he was oblivious to those suffering around him. The rich man committed the sin of sloth.
But we are no different. Many of us lead comfortable lives. We live in nice houses, have nice food, and we take frequent holidays. But we also know that there are many poor people around us. Whether it is because of circumstances beyond their control or poor choices they made, we know there are many who are going without a meal or a roof over their heads right at this moment. Of course, no one is suggesting that it is wrong for us to enjoy ourselves. We have worked hard and earned our wealth legitimately; and we are not the cause of the plights of the poor. But like the rich man in the Gospel, many of us are complacent and oblivious to their sufferings. For instance, there are many charities who raise fund to help the poor but many times, when approached we turned the other way. Often, at best our generosity is limited to the amount of loose change we have in our pockets. Similarly, they are many humanitarian organisations who lend a helping hand in cooking meals, offering shelter, and importantly, lending a listening ear. But we are too busy to offer our time to help. In truth, many of us are no different to the rich people in the First Reading and the rich man in the Gospel.
St Paul wrote immediate before this week’s Second Reading, “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” (1 Tim 5:9-10) Of course, being rich by itself is not a sin. But as St Paul and Jesus taught us, the rich are more susceptible to temptation to fall into sin. When Jesus taught us that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Mt 19:24), He was not saying that it is impossible for the rich to go to heaven. Rather, the eye of the needle referred to a narrow opening in the city wall. The purpose of the opening was for merchants and their camels to take a shortcut to enter the city, instead of going around the wall to the main gate. However, the eye of the needle was a very narrow opening; and in order for the camel to pass though, the merchant first had to unload the load from the camel. Hence, it is indeed possible for the camel to enter through the eye of the needle, but only if the merchant is prepared to unload his riches from the camel. But as we saw in Biblical days and in these modern days, many are unable to do so. This is why the poor and the rich need each other. The poor need the rich to help with their material needs; but the rich need the poor to help with their spiritual needs. The rich needs to poor to learn how to detach from their worldly attachments. In the Gospel story, Lazarus in truth was the grace God bestowed on the rich man. Lazarus was put at the gate of the rich man to help him get to heaven. But the rich man was complacent and oblivious. He turned away from the grace of God.
In the Gospel, towards the end of the story, the rich man thought of his five rich brothers. He begged Abraham to send Lazarus to warn them, so that they do not make the same mistake (verse 27-28). Abraham said, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” (verse 29) But the rich man pleaded, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” (verse 30). Pointedly, Abraham replied, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (verse 31) How true indeed! How many of us remain complacent, in spite of the teachings of Jesus, the man who “rises from the dead”?
How do we overcome the sin of sloth then? In fact, how do overcome any sin? Not by our own strength. By our own strength, even if we know and profess the truth, even if we constantly remind ourselves of our heavenly destiny, we cannot remain spotless. For we are fallen beings, often succumbing to temptations. We must rely on the grace of God. We must open our eyes and recognise the Lazarus that God places at our gate. We must become docile to God’s will, submitting our will to His. Only then may we remain spotless; and in St Paul’s words this week, “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.” (verse 11). As St Paul urged us, “I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time – he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honour and eternal dominion.” (verse 13-16) Amen.