The Readings for the 26th Sunday Tempus per Annum (C1)
Vae qui opulenti estis in Sion… Quapropter nunc migrabunt in capite transmigrantium, et auferetur factio lascivientium.
Woe to the wealthy in Zion... Wherefore now they shall go captive at the head of them that go into captivity: and the faction of the luxurious ones shall be taken away.
Amos really has it in for these folks. Who are “these folks” though? Amos was from Judah (the south), but, in fact, he preached mostly in the north. He preached to or about just about all of the folks in what we now think of as Palestine: passages are addressed to the rich folks in Israel (the northern tribes) the rich folks in Samaria, and to the rich folks in Jerusalem. So, while it is sometimes astute to soften the blow of this prophet by saying, well he was talking to people in Samaria in Chapter 6, but we can learn… Fact is, he was talking to The Rich who lived there. To The Rich who there (and everywhere) have the same problems.
But Amos’ problem wasn’t with the riches of The Rich. We do Amos a huge disservice when we think he’s talking about “the wealth of the rich and the poverty of poor”. The NABRE refers to the “complacent” which is technically ok. But it avoids the fact that Amos is talking about those who have enough money to – as the Hebrew says – “be at ease”. The Latin cuts right to the quick and says, “The Rich”. We need to see the context of the problem: which is that Amos is talking about how the wealthy are treating the poor, misusing their riches because of idolatry. Wealth, per se, is not the problem. In the Hebrew prophets, both the rich and the poor have obligations in God’s world. Straying from God’s path into idolatry always means injustice: Falling out of right relationship with God results in falling out of right relationship with people.
The people of the Northern Tribes, following the example of their king, had begun to worship the local deities of Anat, Asherah, and Baal. The goddess of War, the goddess of Sex, and the god of the Weather.
War, sex, weather: worshipping these had made the northern tribes very wealthy indeed. And the more wealth they accumulated, the more injustice they practiced. The one begot the other which begot more of the first. We know this to still be true: it’s the addictive cycle of sin. We do something and it feels good, so we want to do it again. We make allowances in our lives do to it again, and, before we know it, we are ordering our lives around feeling good. We cut off things that make us feel bad – then we cut off things that make us feel bad about feeling good. Our entire modus operandi becomes feeling good. But what if what “feels good” is, itself, bad?
War, sex, and weather. Three cornerstones of our current cultural climate outside and inside the church really.
We love war. Even if we don’t want a new Land War in Asia, even our peace prize-winning President was a warmonger. We have a war on drugs, a war on poverty, both of which became a war on the poor. We have military actions around the world that destroy and disrupt the lives of the poor – who cannot afford to get out of our way. We love to use the technology of war, in the hands of police and civilians, against the poor: through surveillance and physical harm. We do all of this to protect our wealth.
Even in the Church, where we should study war no more, we find ourselves supporting much of this – even cheering on wars that support Israel against our Christian brothers and sisters who made the unfortunate choice to be born in Palestine. And we support a new warmonger Because of the Judges™. We love war.
Sex needs no introduction, but we do love it. We are obsessed with it both inside and beyond the Church. I don’t mean that in the correct theological way where we welcome the divine gift and treat it as the blessed sacrament that it is. If recent revelations are indicative of the deep waters of the Church, we have been very happy, as a community, to turn our eyes away from sexual sins so that we might enjoy our own peccadillos. The culture that gave us “Catholics for Choice” to destroy children is the same culture that gave us clergy who do the same. The same culture that gives us Jim Martin gives us Cardinal McCarrick.
Beyond the Church, our sexual economy destroys the poor around the world, at home with porn production and addiction, abroad with trafficking and disease. And we try – at all costs – to colonize other lands as modern-day, sexual conquistadors committing culture destruction by our imperialist ideas of autonomy and amorality. We love sex. It’s our basic ID card and our tombstone. And sex is nearly always about wealth and power: only the wealthy can afford the “choices” that make their lack of responsibility possible. Only the poor have no choice when it comes to objectification. Only the rich can afford to make and unmake life choices over and over.
Weather: surely we don’t worship Baal, the god of thunder. Yet weather is part of the culture of injustice. Look at pictures of NYC in the 70s and see the smog. That smog is gone now. Why? All the factories and industries that used to be in NYC (and all their jobs) are now in the third world when we can pay less and pollute their skies instead of ours. And we’ve made NYC so clean that we’ve raised the rents and driven out the poor. We are terrified of global climate change, yet we’re culturally unable to address the root cause which is not our consumption of things, but rather our consumption of the poor. We are happy to move our water, earth, and air pollution to other parts of the world. China even gets our garbage – because the idea of recycled toilet paper bothers us. When we do accept the need for change, we still foist our worst choices on the poor. We tell them not to eat meat, yet “plant-based” foods are filled with chemicals in other parts of the world from our industrialization. We rob the world of health and then tell them to eat better or else climate change is their fault.
We worship weather: and neither our fear of climate change nor our indifference to it will let us care for the poor. Amos would have choice words for us, telling us we’ll be the first. It’s not our riches that condemn us: it’s our failure to participate in God’s self-giving. The Fathers tell us the only reason we have wealth is to share it with the poor. God’s self-giving is called kenosis in the Greek. His grace allows us to pour out our selves in slavish labor for to give all our wealth away to the poor. But we need more furniture, you know, and more cheap plastic junk from Wal*Mart, and organic farm produce which we won’t pay a fair price for – preventing the farmer or industrialist from being able to do his job with workers justly paid.
When Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man has no name: only money. He ignores the poor man: but he knows his name. How is this? He mentions him by name in the next life. In fact, there are two things condemning him here: he clearly knows his name. But instead of doing what we would do – see a friend (or acquaintance) and ask him to speak to someone in power on our behalf, the rich man addresses Abraham and asks him to put Lazarus to work on his behalf. Even in hell, the rich man cannot bring himself to love the poor – only to order them around. His failure to use his wealth in the ways of justice and righteousness has ruined his relationship with neighbor and, so, with God. Rejecting the latter and the former in favor of comfort and pride, he has found he has nothing.
This is us, worshipping sex, war, and weather from our ivory keyboards stretched on our padded deck chairs…
While the Titanic sinks with us, into hell.