What is Social Justice? Our readings last week gave us a basic understanding, first with a warning about our fate based on how we treat others, especially the poor. Not only will the Lord remember how we treat the poor, but in our Gospel he reminded us that we must be honest stewards, both of others and the message of the Gospel. This week our readings give us a warning of what will become of us should we not heed the cry of those in need:
Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
1 Timothy 6:11-16
open with another passage from Amos, our fiery Southern prophet giving a
warning to those who have become complacent. The imagery Amos uses
speaks of excessive wealth, and while taking a jab at David, foretells
of what will happen (and did happen) if they don’t change their ways.
It is a stinging indictment that is very much relevant today as we see
an increasing disparity between rich and poor in our contemporary world.
second reading, continuing our study of the Pauline letters to
Timothy. From the closing passages of his first letter to Timothy, he
urges him, and us, to “compete well for the faith.”. Though not
directly related to our readings on Justice, its core message of
remaining vigilant to the cause of the Gospel serves as a reminder that
we must never cease in our efforts to bring justice to the poor and
those in need. It also reminds us that we too must be prophets, and in
the vein of Amos and Jesus, call out what we see as injustice in our
Our gospel continues from where we left off last week,
and like last week, Jesus gives us another parable that is unique to
Luke’s Gospel. To better set the stage, first let’s remember where we
are: Jesus, still on his travels to Jerusalem, is seen by a group of
Pharisees as he is conversing with a group of “tax collectors and
sinners.” The Pharisees complained about this, so Jesus, speaking to
the Pharisees, gave us the parables we heard two weeks ago (the Lost
Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost – prodigal – Son). Then, continuing
then from last week’s Gospel, Jesus turned to his disciples and gave us
the parable of the Dishonest Steward, a story pointed squarely at the
Pharisees who were listening.
Directly following last week’s Gospel passage the text continues, saying, “The
Pharisees, who loved money, heard all these things and sneered at him.
And he said to them, ‘You justify yourselves in the sight of others,
but God knows your hearts; for what is of human esteem is an abomination
in the sight of God.’” To reinforce his point, he gives us this
week’s passage, the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. This parable,
unique in its personalization of the poor man, is both intimate in its
telling and thick with meaning. Using a familiar story telling devices
(not unlike that used in A Christmas Carole and It’s A Wonderful Life)
we are shown a future that can be avoided if we heed the moral of the
story… that we need to follow what Moses, the Prophets, and Jesus have
been telling us… “whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do
“Dogs even used to come
and lick his sores.” This line from our Gospel is very telling. For
anyone who owns a dog, or has had a dog, knows this to be true. At
their core their primary concern is for the members of their pack,
especially those whom they see as higher in rank. Here Jesus puts a dog
in his parable to the Pharisees to serve as one more barb to skewer
their lack of action on those things that should concern them the most.
The Pharisees, after all, set themselves apart as paragons of faith and
virtue, so Jesus has no problem pointedly acknowledging that in this
case, even a dog has more concern for Lazarus than they do. But what of
God’s mercy, you ask (especially in this Jubilee Year of Mercy). Jesus
is quite clear: “You have Moses and the prophets.” In other words.
You’ve been told – over and over again – what is expected of those who
follow the Lord. Further, you know better, yet you still ignore the
needy around you. Actions speak louder than words. In this case, we
should forget what the Pharisees have to say, and listen to the dog.