There is a Jewish story about Rabbi Joshua, the son of Levi, and his trip to Rome in the third century. He was astounded to see the magnificence of the buildings, especially the care lavished upon statues which were covered with exquisite cloths to protect them from the summer heat. As he was admiring the beauty of Roman art, a beggar plucked at his sleeve and asked for a crust of bread. The sage looked at the statues and turning to the beggar in rags said: “Here are statues of stones covered with expensive clothes, and here is a man created in the image and likeness of God covered with rags. A civilization that pays more attention to statues than to human beings shall surely perish.” Telling the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in today’s Gospel, Jesus asks us the same question: What are our statues, our priorities? The poor and powerless, the illiterate, the homeless, the ill?

Amos speaks to the wealthy people in Zion close to the mountains of Samaria, who feel secure with their wealth and riches. They spend their time in comfort sprawled on their divans, wining and dining in luxury. “Woe to you” he warns them, “your music and revelry will be reduced to silence and sorrow.” Amos is the prophet of social justice and he chastises those who enjoy themselves at the expense of the poor. A prophet in spite of himself, he slashes at the wealthy families of the northern kingdom. Their indifference to the miseries of the poor and their insensitivities to the ruin of the northern kingdom will be punished by exile.

The Rich Man and Lazarus were neighbours, you know. They saw each other every day. Oh, not socially you understand, but there was contact. Every day the Rich Man saw this beggar at his front gate. Who were these men?

Jesus calls his disciples not only to care for the poor but also to learn from the poor. The Lazaruses in our midst can teach us a great deal about compassion and generosity; in their poverty, they can show us how to possess real treasures of life; in their humility, they reflect the dignity of being made in the very image of God. The rich man of today’s Gospel and the “worthless rich” excoriated by the prophet Amos (today’s first reading) are too self-absorbed and satisfied to grasp the wisdom that the poor have to teach them: that the many blessings they — and we — have been given by God are a responsibility and a means to realize God’s dream of a just and merciful community of humanity.

If you cannot feed a hundred people, then feed just one. There are a lot of people in this world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread. We have an invitation to tear down the walls, to bust through the fences, and to get to know the names and the faces of those who are suffering outside of our comfort.

Fr. Charles Chidiebere Mmaduekwe