Sunday, September 29, 2013

Idolatry of the Poor.

The Gospel reading this weekend is the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man from the Gospel according to Saint Luke. I suspect that throughout the world many homilies and sermons ended up saying something to the effect of, “Rich people bad. Poor people good.” This like all heresies is the result of a gross simplification of the Gospel, a deliberate misreading of the message of Jesus, and an imposition of a foreign ideology.

The sin of the unnamed rich man was not that he had wealth. Rather it was that he did not pay attention to Moses and the prophets. As is evident from the parable, he paid no attention to Lazarus. Even from Hell, he views Lazarus as at best his servant. Was this his only sin or greatest sin? Likely not. Was Lazarus' virtue the fact that he was poor and sick? No. It was that. His virtues are not specified. But we know from Moses and the prophets that God commanded all rich and poor alike to obey His commands. We can infer from Lazarus' presence in the Bosom of Abraham that he had walked in God's path.

This would have amazed the Pharisees of Jesus' time to whom the parable was addressed. They held to a version of the Gospel of Prosperity. How do you tell who God likes? The are healthy and wealthy. This is heresy in view of both the Old and New Covenant. Yet it remains. We find in among the TV preachers as well as among those who view poverty, sickness, and other misfortunes as a punishment rather than a share in the Cross of Christ for the salvation of the world.

But today there is also a mirror image heresy. It is rooted in a distortion of the Gospel. It is also rooted in envy and jealousy with more than a pinch of Marxism and Socialism. This view holds that the wealthy are wicked and evil because of their wealth and the poor are virtuous because of their poverty. There is more than a little bit of romantic idealism here. It makes a idol out of poverty and the poor.

There are and have been saints and sinners among the rich as well as the poor. Wealth poses unique opportunities for sin as well as paths to virtue. Remember that while Jesus said that it is difficult for a rich man to enter through the Needle's Eye as it is for him to enter into the Kingdom of God, He also that for God all things are possible. The prime temptations of the rich are pride, self-sufficiency, and a hardness of heart. But poverty presents its own temptations; jealous, envy, and greed. Both the rich and the poor are called to holiness and holiness is possible for both. Demonization of one and idolization of the other must be avoided.

The will of God is that all men be saved. The Gospel is for both the materially poor and the materially rich. Christ died for all men. It is the job of the Church to work for the salvation of all.
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