Reflections on the Scriptures for Sunday 26 September 2010
Amos 6:1a,4-7; Psalm 146:7-10; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31
Amos the prophet of social justice points a finger at the wealthy in his society, condemning them not only for their extravagant lifestyles but also for their head-in-the-sand attitude to the calamity which is about to engulf their nation. My first inclination is to place myself beside the prophet, pointing at ‘them’ – anyone who is richer, who benefits from the status quo more than I do. But should I really be there? Perhaps I should submit myself to being addressed by the prophet and forced to think about my lifestyle in a wider context. Who is exploited so that I can buy cheap fashion? What does my affordable holiday flight cost the planet and future generations? Do I ever think seriously about the global consequences of my lifestyle choices? Amos warned his wealthy audience that they will be the first to be exiled. It is often not like that: frequently it is the poor (individuals, communities and nations) that pay the price for the actions of the rich.
When we join in the hymn of praise that is Psalm 146, we stand together with our God on the side of the poor and those denied justice. We remind ourselves that God is not neutral, still less an ally of the oppressor or exploiter, and neither should God’s people be. We hope and strive for the compassionate world envisioned in the psalm where the hungry eat, the prisoners are freed and the vulnerable are well provided for. The good news we celebrate is good news for the needy.
Paul’s charge to his young disciple Timothy can be heard as a general call to take our faith seriously and to live out our commitments. In the light of the Old Testament readings, though, it is significant that this reading has been extracted from a context where it is both preceded and followed by references to the dangers of wealth and attachment to it. The life of faith is lived against the backdrop of a materialistic and acquisitive society. It is lived in the context of perpetual struggles for power and security. And yet it is to be lived by people who are committed to the values of the kingdom of God to which Jesus bears witness. Faithfulness to those values implies that we cannot co-opt the message of Jesus to serve our own interests, however nobly we disguise them.
With that background, Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus seems to be less about life beyond death, and more about the choices we make about wealth in this life. The scene beyond the grave is a striking way of unveiling the real values of the vision of Jesus, where the least are the greatest and the poor inherit the kingdom. The Scriptures of the Old Testament contain that vision and the life of Jesus embodied it. He died in faithfulness to it rather than be co-opted by the powers at play in the religious and political world of first century Palestine; and his resurrection marked God’s vindication of his faithful life and death. The words “they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead” are clearly aimed at those who reject the Christian message. But what message? Is it possible to claim to have faith in Jesus Christ and yet to live lives that stubbornly contradict his vision? The resurrection is the surest sign of God’s blessing and vindication of the life lived in solidarity with the poor and outcast, the life that trusts itself to God’s care rather than seeking the security of wealth and power. Do we find its truth convincing?