Once again I recommend reading the book of Amos. Listen to God pour out His heart. Amos says God will judge the powerful because they are not grieved over the ruin of [Joseph] God’s People. The life styles of the rich and famous offends YHWH. Amos promises they will lose everything.
The Jewish prophets proclaim His word—trust God, love God, obey God and act justly. Prophets remind His people of the Torah and the offer of blessing and curse. The Jews believed that there will be a Judgement Day when God and His Messiah will rule the earth, but the prophets make clear that God acts already and the unjust societies will not stand. Amos declares doom for Israel, but also for the neighboring nations. God declares that they will fall for the evil they have done. Moral corruption produces a bitter fruit which poisons a nation. Nature and other people are potent weapons to lay low even the greatest nation. What was true then is still true today. We will reap what we sow.
This is why Amos is frightening. Trampling the poor is just an accepted part of the global economy. God despises injustice, and we live in a time where the gap between rich and poor has never been greater. It is not enough to virtue signal, as if talking about the sins of others somehow makes us good. We must repent, but economics is complex. Poor people aren’t always victims and the well-off are not always villains. Not so long ago a cobbler could sell shoes to his village and make a living. In our own time, Nike sells shoes to the world and makes $39 billion. Almost half the world’s nations have a lower GNP than NIKE. The scope of the problem takes away one's breath.
Fortunately, Jesus makes the problem concrete and more manageable. The rich man is held responsible for ignoring Lazarus, who lay at his gate. He is not accused of ignoring the world, the nation, or even the city—just ignoring the one guy he sees each day. Jesus says, look around you and touch those who are in reach of your hand.
St. Andrew's outreach is simply that, reaching those whom we can touch. We support an orphanage in Haiti because otherwise those children would literally die in the streets, like Lazarus. We provide medical care for the working poor, support to the homeless, old and financially disabled. We help heal veterans of their war wounds and provide respite for families suffering with the effects of dementia. The bulk of our support is to agencies and ministries which daily face more need than they can supply, but have the expertise to make a difference.
We also experience that hands on ministry. Our phones ring every day. People who are hungry, under threat of eviction or having their utilities cut off turn to us, some of them regularly. It is sad because many of them work, and usually they are mothers with children but no other support. We know them. We pray with them. Lately we have had not funds, so we can only listen to them. We also grieve over the ruin of God’s people.
Sixteen hundred years ago St. Augustine preached a sermon on this topic: "We can understand that we have to give alms and that we must not really pick and choose to whom we give them, because we are unable to sift through people's hearts. When you give alms to all different types of people, then you will reach a few who deserve them. you are hospitable and you keep your house ready for strangers. Let in the unworthy, in case the worthy might be excluded. You cannot be a judge and sifter of hearts." (Ancient Church Commentary, Luke, p255)
Jesus did not say whether Lazarus was deserving.Jesus didn’t explain why Lazarus ended up in that gutter.
Jesus did say that Lazarus laid in the street, dogs licked his wounds, and the rich man went to hell for ignoring him....
The Word of God we heard today:
Amos tells us to care about society and repent of materialism and indifference to the poor.Jesus said to stop ignoring the needy within your reach.
As I worked and reworked the homily for the last three weeks, the image of the village cobbler came to mind. It is easier to speak of fair wages and justice on the level of one man and one village. Thinking of shoe sales today, I ended up looking at NIKE which led me to further reflection on justice. A few days later down I pondered the social justice marketing around Colin Kaepernick. That gets really complex. The cobbler charging fair prices and providing a good product is fairly manageable. The multi-national shoe company which involves thousands of people and billions of dollars is not so easy.
*This timeline depicts Nike's revenue worldwide from 2005 to 2019. In 2019, Nike's global revenue amounted to about 39.1 billion U.S. dollars. https://www.statista.com/statistics/241683/nikes-sales-worldwide-since-2004/
The issue of low wages and poor working conditions turned up in many articles, but there was also a question about whose standards apply? The moral ambiguities continue. Most of the Nike shoes which came up on the computer cost $150--$200, yet the workers reportedly make less than a living wage, only dollars a day. On the other hand, if the workers are poor, we hear from some, they were poorer before and now they have jobs. The clothing industry has generated a huge influx of jobs into the region which has created an economic boom. To further complicate it, Colin Kaepernick, with a net worth of $22 million in 2016, received a large cash settlement from the NFL and then signed a lucrative contract with Nike as a spokesman (both are in the $ millions). Some say he is an icon of a courageous man who lost everything speaking out for justice. Others think that he made out fine. Some ask “justice” for whom? What of the workers making dollars a day so that others make millions? How do you determine what each person should make? If spokesmen generate millions more in sales are they are worth millions more than the exchangeable humans who put the shoes together? However, divine economics declare that each human, exchangeable or not, deserves dignity. How does one construct a world economy where billions of people in very diverse situations are all treated fairly, when "what is enough" is not clear at all?
Jesus provides one option, until we can answer these big questions. Love the ones around you, the ones who you see and hear. Do something…