26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
September 29, 2013
THE FOLLY OF SECURITY AND VAIN CONFIDENCE!
The words of Amos are a stunner: “Woe to the complacent in Zion!” I am not a biblical scholar, nor do I intend to pretend to be one today, but there is surely something everyone can say about this stunning statement solely from its face value. One does not need to be a genetic scientist to confidently say this … “All you who feel so secure and vainly feel overconfident, take care!”
Well, truth be told, Amos was talking to a very precise group of people who probably were getting it so good then in life: people who were “lying upon beds of ivory and stretched comfortably in their couches.”
Was he taking potshots at the filthy rich of his times? Was he condemning those who wallowed in “brilliance and splendor” just because they could afford to? I have no answer for this.
But I do have something to say about the rantings of Amos when pitted against the two other readings. Paul was writing to Timothy. He cautioned him to “keep the commandment,” until the Lord appears, whom he referred to as “the blessed and only ruler” who “dwells in unapproachable light, and whom no human being has seen or can see.”
Take that as meaning there is someone more important than “brliiance and splendor,” “beds of ivory” and “comfortable couches.” The complacent in Zion or anywhere else, for that matter, is one who could not be distracted from his “security and vain confidence” by talks about God, or at least about godly stuff.
Indifference is what that is called … complacency … foolish security or vain confidence … the attitude, like that of the Pharisees who surrounded the Lord when he recounted the parable that we heard today – about the rich man and pitiable Lazarus.
The Pharisees were not simply indifferent. No … that would be too kind to them. They were rejecting of anything and everything that cramped their style, for they definitely were not just lovers of the letters of the law … they were not just simply sticklers for details and unbending advocates of immaculate clean cups, jugs, and kettles, or clean hands, for that matter! They were lovers of money, too, and their love for wealth and privilege covered up for the lack of other lesser loves for anyone other than themselves.
They were indifferent even as they rejected the Lord and his followers. They were complacent even as they focused all attention at proving themselves right and righteous, and all others as wrong and misguided; dirty and sinful; poor and hopelessly irrelevant.
They most likely thought they would never lose it all – the position of privilege, power, influence, and the perch of haughtiness and complacency.
We have a timely example from our times. The thieves in and out of government, mostly honorable men and women, from supposedly honorable branches of government, were lying in the modern-day equivalent of ivory beds and stretched comfortably in their benches in the “hallowed halls” of congress and the senate and the executive branches. Many of them are graduates of elite schools, both here and abroad. Most of them are very articulate and brilliant in their own right. But someone who took a techvoc course for all of six months in some fly-by-night institution, got away with loot so big, so unimaginable for the rest of us who only count pesos in terms of hundreds and thousands. That is, if we are to believe each and everyone of them, who all make undying protestations of innocence and what amounts to gross stupidity, for allowing hundreds of millions to disappear into thin air, and leaving the hoi polloi, the ptochoi (the teeming masses of the poor) so different and so markedly distant by light years from them who form the plousioi (the rich of the land)!
Do we now condemn the rich for being rich? No .. the readings today do not call the poor to take up arms and revolt against the rich per se. But the readings today rail against the indifferent, complacent rich, not because they are rich, but because they are sinfully callous, insensitive, and utterly uncaring for the likes of Lazarus, the poor man outside the city gates.
We really couldn’t care less where the rich live and where they put their money. But the Lord tells us today to care … He denounces through Amos the “complacent in Zion” who only worried about themselves and their needs. The Lord tells us today, not to hate Dives the rich man, but never to emulate him for his being callous and indifferent to the plight of Lazarus, and then recognizing him only when he found himself in dire need, when he was already beyond help.
We Filipinos are a forgiving and tolerant people. We hardly question why politicians are rich. We even expect them to be rich and powerful. But we Filipinos are a basically caring people. And we cannot understand the uncaring, complacent, indifferent attitude of all those who, after becoming politicians, behave like a fly perched on a carabao’s back, who now look down at everyone else, bloated by a sense of entitlement, and blinded by position and prestige.
We take up common cause today with Amos and pray for the rich (the plousioi), the powerful, the poor (ptochoi) who may have forgotten where they are: with feet still firmly planted on the ground … And here’s a timely reminder for us all, ptochoi and plousioi: “Woe to the complacent in Zion!”