BREAKING THROUGH INDIFFERENCE
According to Luke, when Jesus cried out: «You can’t be slave of both God and money», some Pharisees who were listening to him and who were friends of money «jeered at him». Jesus doesn’t back down. A little later he relates a heart-rending parable so that those who live enslaved by wealth would open their eyes.
In just a few words Jesus describers a flagrant situation. A rich man and a poor beggar who live next to each other are separated by the chasm that exists between the life of insulting opulence of the rich man and the extreme misery of the poor man.
The account describes these two characters, pointing out powerfully the contrast between them. The rich man goes about clothed in purple and the finest linen, the poor man’s body is covered with sores. The rich man feasts splendidly not only in times of festival but daily, the poor man is thrown away at his doorstep, unable to bring to his mouth what falls from the rich man’s table. Only dogs come near to lick his wounds when they come looking for something in the garbage.
At no point does it talk about the rich man exploiting the poor man or that he has mistreated or despised him. You could say that he hasn’t done anything bad. However his whole life is inhuman, since he only lives for his own well-being. His heart is made of stone. He completely ignores the poor man. He has him right in front of him, but doesn’t see him. The poor man is right there: sick, hungry, abandoned, but the rich man is unable to cross the threshold to take care of him.
We mustn’t deceive ourselves. Jesus isn’t just denouncing the situation in 30 CE Galilee. He’s trying to shake the conscience of those of us who have grown accustomed to live in abundance while right outside our door, just a few hours away by plane, are whole countries living and dying in the most absolute misery.
It is inhuman to enclose ourselves in our «society of well-being» while completely ignoring that other «society of not-at-all-well-being». It is cruel to keep nourishing a “secret fantasy of innocence” that allows us to live with a clear conscience, thinking that it’s everybody’s fault and it’s nobody’s fault.
Our first task is to break through indifference. Stop letting ourselves continue to enjoy a well-being that is void of compassion. Stop keeping ourselves mentally isolated in order to put the misery and hunger that fills our world into some abstract far off place, thereby being able to live without hearing any noise or cries for help or weeping.
The Gospel can help us live wide awake, not letting us end up more and more closed to the sufferings of the abandoned, not letting us lose our sense of fraternal responsibility, not letting us stay passive when we can act.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf