The foolishness and aloofness that can accompany wealth are clearly the theme of Amos’ preaching today as well as the core lesson of Jesus’ parable about Lazarus and the rich man. Amos was one of the earliest of the prophets whose names grace the pages of the Old Testament and already in his time many of the most blessed and fortunate of the people of Israel had gone badly off course. He decries them for their lives of ease amid much suffering: “Woe to the complacent in Zion! Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches….They drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the best oils; yet they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph!”
The collapse of Joseph that Amos mentions refers to the gradual weakening of the kingdom of Israel and its attempts to stave off disaster by cooperating with the pagan Assyrians. A similar pattern of choosing the passing allure of wealth and security to the enduring fidelity of God is narrated in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. These texts force us to confront the sources of “wealth” or “security” we find in our lives: money, skills, reputation, popularity, and so forth, which can steer us off the course of discipleship and lead us to select fading realities instead of the Lord’s faithfulness which lasts forever.
To keep us from making all this a simplistic outcry against the wealthy—which is not what Jesus intended—we can turn to a pearl of wisdom found in today’s gospel antiphon: “Though [our Lord Jesus Christ] was rich, he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). These are truly remarkable words: Jesus became poor by becoming like us in all things but sin, becoming human not in opposition to his divinity but in a beautiful incarnational union with his divinity. This means that he took on all weakness, fragility, woundedness, and insecurity of human “poverty” precisely in order to draw all these things into his divinity and heal them. Jesus loves so strongly as to desire to enter into the experience and suffering of humanity to lift humanity out of this poverty into his divine riches. His act of impoverishment is thus an act of love, a love which is the polar opposite of the aloofness of the Israelites whom Amos excoriated and of the rich man of Jesus’ parable.
As mentioned above, the words the liturgy uses today from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians are in the form of a gospel antiphon; these antiphons are brief biblical verses meant to focus our attention on the key message of the gospel reading to follow. Today’s antiphon does this effectively by taking away any temptation to portray those we do not like as the “rich man” figure in our imagination and to smugly judge these people just as he was judged in the gospel parable. With the antiphon’s words “he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” in our ears we can hardly be so self-righteous as to not rejoice in wonder over Jesus’ gracious acceptance of our human “poverty” and bestowal of the wealth of his divinity.
Learning from this loving act of Jesus as well as from St. Paul’s description of it in terms of riches and poverty, may we open our hearts to the love which leaves behind our wealth and human security, whatever form they may take, and prefers God’s fidelity to any passing human honors or possessions. Doing this, we will turn our aloofness into joyful compassion and enter like Lazarus into the mystery of God’s love which enriches us in Christ beyond all imagination.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.