Harm is Done when Nothing is Done

Homily for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

A rich man went to a psychiatrist. He had symptoms of depression. He confided that, years ago, he had many friends. Now that he has become rich, he has no more friends. The doctor led him to the glass window and asked, “What do you see through this window?” “I see some
people on the street”, the man said. Then the doctor led him in front of the mirror. “Now, tell me, what do you see.” The man replied, “I see my own face.” “That’s right!” the doctor exclaimed. “You see, the window and the mirror are both made of glass. When you looked
through the window, you saw other people. But isn’t it interesting that, with a little amount of silver painted at the back of the glass of the mirror, you only saw yourself?”

Pope John Paul II said: “The great danger for family life, in the midst of any society whose idols are pleasure, comfort and independence, lies in the fact that people close their hearts and become selfish.” Every time money and selfishness rule our lives, we encounter problems and troubles. Not long ago, the world was divided vertically – East and West, between the Oriental and the Western civilization. But now, the division is horizontal – north and south, the upper and the lower, the rich and the poor, the first world and the third world countries. Countries are categorized, not anymore according to geography, race or people, but according to their GNP, GDP, foreign exchange rate, dollar and gold reserves and other economic indicators. They are now considered more as economies than as sovereign nations. There is the movement from the “superior” to the “inferior” – the rich tend to look down on the poor.

Such is the case in the Gospel parable. The rich man was condemned to hell. There was no mention of him being unjust or dishonest. His was not a sin of commission – he did nothing bad; but a sin of omission – he did nothing good either, especially to the poor Lazarus. Underlying this total disregard of the poor are two behaviors: overindulgence in worldly comfort and pleasure, and lack of respect for the poor.

In the first place, the rich man was rendered blind and calloused due to excessive pleasure and worldly indulgence. This is precisely what the prophet Amos condemned in the first reading today: “Woe to the complacent in Zion! Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches, they eat lambs taken from the flock…they drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the best oils. Therefore, now they shall be the first to go into exile, and their wanton revelry shall be done away with.”

St. James also has strong words for such people: “You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter” (James 5:5). That is why the Lord gives us this solemn warning: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from
carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.” (Lk 21:34).

Secondly, the world has that natural propensity to look down on the poor. The Book of Sirach makes a graphic comparison: “When a rich man stumbles, he is supported by a friend; when a poor man trips, he is pushed by a friend. Many are the supporters for the rich man when he speaks; though what he says is odious, it wins approval. When a poor man speaks, they make sport of him; he speaks wisely, and no attention is paid him” (Sir 13:20-21). Such an attitude naturally makes it easy for people to ignore and despise the poor.

Sin of omission is not just a matter of simple negligence or oversight. It is a very serious sin because it is rooted in selfishness and wanton disregard for others. It is caused by one’s unwillingness to get out of his comfort zone, and the desire to remain undisturbed in his peaceful and comfortable little world. But what these selfish people do not realize is that, as long as there are hungry and angry people around, their own little cozy world is in constant danger of crumbling down at any time. When poverty and injustice abound, chaos and bloodshed are not far behind.

The theme of the parable this Sunday bears a striking similarity with that of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25. In both accounts, the condemnation is not based on the wrong done, but on the good deed not done; not on the sins of commission, but on the sins of omission: “I was hungry, and you did not give me food; I was thirsty and you did not give me drink; I was naked, you did not clothe me; imprisoned and sick, but you did not visit me.”

A certain family invited some people to dinner. 
 At the table, the mother asked her four-year-old son, “Would you please lead us in prayer before we eat?” The boy was surprised. “But I do not know what to say,” he protested. “Just say what you hear from Mommy,” the mother replied. 
The boy bowed his head and said, “Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?”

We can surmise that the rich man in the Gospel was shaking his head in disbelief and also asking himself: “Why on earth did I not invite Lazarus to dinner even once?” Lazarus lying at his door was a golden opportunity for him to gain heavenly treasures. But he chose to turn a blind eye and threw away all his chances. He wanted to go back, but it was too late.

Let us look around us. Who are the people who are Lazarus to us? How do we feel about them? What do we intend to do for them? Let’s hope that at the Last Judgment, we will not be asking ourselves, “Why on earth did I not reach out to them?”

Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002

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