Amos 6:1a, 4-7; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31 (online here)
We have three lessons this Sunday that issue stern warnings about what might happen to us if we are too comfortable with our possessions.
Amos says, “Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, … who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches.” The writer of 1 Timothy (probably a follower of St. Paul writing in his name) warns that even wanting to be rich risks self-destruction. And Jesus tells a parable about a rich man who was very comfortable and a poor man on his doorstep who was in misery. They both die, and their fortunes are reversed: now it’s the poor man who is very comfortable, while the rich man is in misery.
All three readings seem clear: if we get so comfortable with what we have that we ignore the urgent needs of those who have little, we are in deep trouble as far as God is concerned.
Jesus’ story is a parable. It’s not a literal description of what happens to us after we die. Parables are not literal descriptions. But Amos is not telling a parable, and neither is 1 Timothy. And all are saying literally that something is dreadfully wrong when our comfort blinds us to the suffering that surrounds us.
What troubles me about that is realizing that much of the time I am indeed that comfortable. I can and do forget that in Indianapolis I only have to walk a few steps to run into people whose needs are far more urgent than mine and who are anything but comfortable. Woe to me for being so much at ease when neighbors are not. I love to speak of sharing God’s common life with everyone. I love to speak of justice for everybody. But every time I let my comfort blind me to the suffering that surrounds me, I am denying every stand I’ve ever taken.
Of course, the message we celebrate is that God’s embrace still includes us even when we are that hypocritical. But if we even halfway believe that message, we can’t be at ease with such hypocritical habits.
Jesus says that we don’t need any grand miracles to show us what we need to do here. We already have the words of Moses, the words of prophets like Amos, and now the words of Jesus. That’s enough. We know what we need to do. We need to bring our actions into line with what we say we believe. We need to open our eyes to the suffering that surrounds us, and we need to do something about it.
And I have a prediction. If you keep engaging lessons like these, the way we do in the Eucharist—I mean really engaging them—you will start bringing your actions into line with Amos’ and Paul’s and Jesus’ vision. You will do something about it. You will not be “at ease in Zion,” or in Indianapolis. You’ll wind up doing things on behalf of the dispossessed that will take you out of your comfort zone in ways you never imagined you could.
It may be intermittent, nothing consistent enough to brag about—that’s how it’s been in my case—but it will start to change everything about you. And it will also make you more alive to your world, and to yourself, than you had ever thought possible. You’ll start to “take hold of the life that really is life.”
That’s my prediction. Maybe it’s more a maybe (is that redundant?) than a certainty, but why not open yourself to it? You never know…