The underlying message of this week’s Scripture readings — the expectation that those who have little are to be cared for by those who have much — can be found in the sacred texts of almost every religious tradition. In the Hebrew Scriptures the widow and the orphan, the most powerless people in the ancient Jewish world, hold a special place; in the Christian Testament Jesus is continually reaching out to the marginalized, the outcast and the oppressed.
Paul’s Letter to Timothy refers to those who have made the “noble confession in the presence of many witnesses,” most likely referring to baptism, as being joined to the “noble confession” of Jesus before Pilate. Paul tells Timothy that, joined in this confession of faith, we too are to “… pursue righteousness …” But if this is so, how can we, joined as we are by baptism into Christ, remain silent before the unrighteousness of marginalization and oppression, of people forced to beg for food on the streets of our cities, of children crying themselves to sleep because there is nothing for them to eat?
Amos makes a similar point when he asks how the people in the southern kingdom of Judah can continue to live in wealth and privilege while the social order of their brothers and sisters in the northern kingdom of Israel is collapsing. Might we not ask ourselves the same question when we watch the evening news? Or when we scan the headlines in our morning paper?
In Luke’s Gospel, the rich man “… dined sumptuously…” while Lazarus lay, covered with sores, dying on his doorstep. Luke tells us the name of the poor man, but notice that the rich man is left unnamed. Did Luke “accidentally” forget to give us this detail? Or could it be that he neglected to tell us the rich man’s name because we already know it? “Woe to the complacent in Zion!” Do we live the righteous promises of our “… noble confession …?” Or do we, like that rich man, prefer to sit complacently in front of our television sets, ignoring the poor who lay dying on our doorstep?
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.