Today we hear more from the prophet Amos, as he continues to rail against those of his own day who wallow in their wealth and easy living: “Lying on ivory beds and sprawling on their divans, they dine on lambs from the flock, and stall-fattened veal; they drink wine by the bowlful, and use the finest oil for anointing themselves.” Worse, disgracefully so: “About the ruin of Joseph they do not care at all.” His angry contempt for those who act like this is clear, as he calls on them to heed and imitate God’s own care for the poor, the needy, those living desperate lives on the edge of society.
It is this loving care by God of “those who are bowed down” that Psalm:146 celebrates, as it praises God for God’s unfailing help. This is the God of the “oppressed ….. the hungry …. prisoners ….. the blind … the stranger … the widow and orphan”.
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke’s Gospel presents a vivid contrast: designation of status rich vs. poor; being dressed in purple garments of fine linen (both very costly in the ancient world) vs. being clothed in ulcerous sores; sumptuous daily meals vs. scavenging for food with only dogs as companions. Yet the poor man’s name (rarely given in parables), Lazarus, is a hint of the reversal of fate that will unfold: echoing the theme of God’s unfailing help in Psalm 146, the name “Lazarus” literally means “God helps”. As the parable unfolds, with the deaths of both men, we see the rich man begging Abraham, associated with God’s covenant with God’s people, to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, who lived the same lavish lifestyle. Abraham replies that they have the same opportunities he had, the law and the prophets, a reference to the injunctions of the Torah to care for the poor and the needy, and the warnings of the prophets, like those of Amos. The parable is so relevant for today. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the overriding evil of great wealth is that it so takes over a person’s life that it makes him or her deaf to the teaching of Torah and blind to the sufferings of others. As Christians, we know that Jesus listened to the voice of Moses and the prophets and offered love and acceptance to the marginalized of his day, while uttering sober warnings to the proud and prosperous. Like the brothers of the rich man in the parable, if we cannot plumb the depths of the social message of the Hebrew Bible, the words of the risen Jesus will fall on deaf ears.
In the Letter to Timothy, there is an exhortation to live according to God’s teaching, which is in direct contrast to the verses immediately preceding our passage, which urge being content with what we have: “People who long to be rich are a prey to temptation; they get trapped into all sorts of foolish and dangerous ambitions which eventually plunge them into ruin and destruction.”