ON OUR OWN DOORSTEP?

FAITH IN FOCUS: ON OUR OWN DOORSTEP?

 There is a very old story told about a botanist who was studying the heather-bell found in the highlands of Scotland. While looking through his microscope at this beautiful flower, he was approached by a shepherd who asked what he was doing. Rather than trying to explain, the botanist invited the shepherd to peer through his microscope and observe for himself. When the shepherd saw the wonder of the flower he exclaimed, ‘my God, and I have been tramping on them all my life!’ sometime we fail to see the wood for the trees.

 When there are documentaries on commercial television about famine in the world, during the break for commercials there are often adverts for mobile phones, the latest car, designer jeans, hair colouring and no-win no-fee compensation. Then it is back to abandoned babies, starving faces and drought-ridden communities .

It’s almost as if we live in two worlds, we immunise ourselves to what’s going on around us and we cosset ourselves with a lifestyle that demands ever more novelty and style, while ignoring those around us who lack even the most basic resources.

This was the problem with the rich man, (known in Latin as Dives). You can’t help feeling sorry for Dives on one level. He was an extremely rich man and he had Lazarus, a poor man covered with sores, who lay on his doorstep and scavenged scraps of food from his bins. You can’t help feeling sorry for Dives because he never did Lazarus any harm. He just never did him any good. In fact he seems to have overlooked him completely even though he was on his doorstep. He never noticed.

 You might be tempted to say that if we don’t notice something then we can hardly be blamed for it. But could it be that Dives had got into the habit of living so much for himself, living the high life, that he became immune to the poverty and need that were around him? Could it be that our lifestyles can deflect us from reality?

Of course, we are all aware of world poverty and famine. But we see nothing incongruous in the advertising campaigns to get us to spend our money on luxuries. We have become impervious to the paradox, untouched by the irony of our two worlds.

But before we rush to think that his parable is just about world poverty, are we sure that there isn’t a Lazarus much closer to home whom we have overlooked? They may not be poor but they may still be needy. And they may be sitting on our own doorstep.

 

FAIR EXCHANGE?

 

Usually when we hear the word greed used today it is in the context of finance. We talk about greedy bankers, greedy executives who are taking huge bonuses and greedy companies that are charging more to their customers while providing the same or less.

 Greed, or avarice, is one of the deadly sins. By deadly   we mean that if not checked early it can deaden the spirit, isolate us from what life is really all about. It’s a rotten-apple type of vice; eventually it contaminates all of our attitudes and relationships. It turns us into the sort of people that we wouldn’t want to spend much time with.

 The prophet Amos in today’s reading could be talking about our present age: employers who pay less than a living wage, or those who offer only zero contracts, merchants who fiddle the weight of their products or simply sell smaller packets, companies that charge more and blame it on the exchange rate, those who lend money at exorbitant rates and those who get people hooked on products that carry with them endless credit agreements. It was happening in Israel 2,750 years ago!

 Implicit in Amos’ preaching is another concept. In Hebrew it is know as the ‘anawim’. The anawim are people who have no clout. They are the poor people, the ones whose faces jump out at us from the TV screen in developing countries, the common mass who are at the mercy of the movers and shakers, those who are easily exploited because they have no one to stand up tor them. It was the anawim that the Virgin Mary sang about in the Magnificat, about pulling princes off their thrones and raising up the lowly.

 When we put these two ideas together, greed and the anawim, we are left with one of the mainstream concerts of the prophets, of Judaism, of Christianity and the Church today: the way we treat people who have no come back to us is a major indicator of the type of people that we are and the type of response we are making to God’s demands.

 Do we operate different standards in the workplace than in the church? how do we treat those who work ‘under’ us?

Do we live by social values that help us keep up with the Joneses or are we genuinely concerned about the effect the way we live has on less fortunate people? Do we care about where the products we buy have come from and the conditions of those employed to produce them ? When given the chance to vote, do we vote for those who will make life better for us or for those who will improve the lot of the world’s anawim?

 Are we greedy for money or for social justice? Only one of them can buy true religion.

 

FIVE STEPS BACK HOME

What was it about the prodigal son that took him back home when everything had gone wrong? He took five steps to get back to the family atmosphere of his father’s house.

 First, he recognised the senselessness of his sinful condition. This can be hard. We fool ourselves that our sin is really quite harmless or maybe even just a bit of fun. Yet eventually the realisation comes upon us that what we are doing is not making us fuller people but simply stunting our development. We are brought short and forced to face the truth that the grass is in fact greener where we used to be.

 Repentance is the second step. The awakening brought about by the hopelessness of our situation leads us to accept that we’ve been going in the wrong direction long enough and it’s time to turn around and go back.

 It forces us to admit that we alone are responsible for the mess we are in; sin is our choice and nobody forces us. And what the prodigal son really wanted was not just some food but the restoration of his relationship with his father.

 Repentance must always be accompanied by honesty. There’s no point in making excuses for what we have done. The son could have blamed the home situation, his father or his brother, the farmer who gave him a job with the pigs, etc. But the less we are found making excuses the more likely we are to be serious about changing our way of life.

 When he repented the son displayed humility. He simply acknowledged that he had sinned, was sorry and did not deserve to be called a son any more. He knew he had disgraced his family and friends, accepted it and was determined to do something about it. He set no conditions to his confession.Then he made his resolution to go back home. He didn’t ask for time to consider things, procrastinate and put things off. He did something about it, left his sorry situation and determined to start things afresh.

 Five steps. But the only ones that would take him back to the feast. And us?

 

 

IS THERE A CHRISTIAN IN THE HOUSE?

You may be in the church building, but are you in Christ? Your name is on the parish records, but is it in the book of life? You may be in the Church, but is Christ in you? Being in a classroom does not make you a teacher. Being in a surgery doesn’t make you a doctor. And beingin a church building doesn’t make you a disciple!

 Jesus preaches in such a way that we either get on board or abandon ship. Either we will follow Christ or forsake him. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He is making his way to the cross. He is on his way to betrayal, flogging, mocking, scourging, and beating. His own people have rejected him. He is on his way to Jerusalem to die for the very people who will murder him. They have called him Beelzebub. They have accused him of breaking the law. They have numbered him with the publicans and sinners. Jesus knows his disciples will suffer the same fate and only a true disciple can endure such persecution.

 Before you decide to buy that new home cinema system you have to sit down and work out whether you have enough money to

pay for it, whether in cash or instalments. And it’s the same thing when it comes to being a disciple of Christ. There is a cost involved.

 Jesus never tried to get big crowds. In fact, he said things that would put off the faint-hearted. To follow him, he said, you must love your family but never let them get in the way of your responding fully to God’s call.

 Those who appreciate the wisdom of God’s plan are prepared to give up wealth, reputation, security and even their own lives if it is demanded. This does not come cheap.

 It’s easy to say that we would do all this for God, but how well are we faring in the ordinary things of life, the little demands that are put upon us? This is a good guide to how much we are being true to our calling as disciples.

 Being a Christian means accepting all our family and social responsibilities but giving Christ top priority. There can be no part-time Christians.