Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is worth a watch. We saw it yesterday. Today we get a second reading from Amos and his condemnation of riches. Even more powerful than the sequel to Wall Street is the story Jesus tells in today’s Gospel—the rich man and Dives at the gate. What is it that we don’t get from the prophets and the One Risen from the Dead?
Last week we heard the startling statistic that one out of every seven Americans live in poverty. While the rich fight to keep the Bush tax breaks that have cost the Treasury trillions, one out of every seven Americans languishes at the gates of the rich man’s manor. In America and around the world the income gap between the haves and have-nots is increasing at an alarming rate.
If we really believed in the common good and solidarity as essential distillations of Gospel values related to riches and Mammon, we would not countenance poverty in America for one minute. However, we are into American individualism and exceptionalism. We are more interested in building silos for our riches and for our missiles to defend them. Francis of Assisi got it right—if we have possessions, we have to have weapons to defend them.
How can we read these and other scriptures and then turn our back on the poor among us? It’s easy. It’s their fault. They were not fortunate enough to be born to our parents. They are lazy and shiftless. They would rather get a welfare check than work. On and on. I even heard one person talking about entitlement by referencing a women trapped in two feet of new Orleans flood water and calling out for help. Who was she to call for help? Why couldn’t she lift herself by her non-existent rubber waders and walk to safety? Safety in a flood is no problem for this person who lives in a comfortable house high on a mountain.
Where is the compassion which is so lacking in the rich man’s heart? Doesn’t he see Dives each and every day when he rides his chariot in and out of his estate?
He finally gets it in the end when the sheep and the goats have been separated. What he did not do to the least of these has consequences. Hell is not a place. Hell is a state of mind, an awareness of our alienation from God, one another and God’s creation. Merton tells us that we do not have peace because we do not love God and that we do not love God because we do not love ourselves. We are alienated from our true self which is the very image of God within us—LOVE.
Greed-Is-Good Gekko is a torn man after his release from prison. He is alienated from his only remaining family member—his daughter. His villainous heart is torn between one last scam to get into his daughter’s Swiss bank account so he can regain power and prominence and his desire to win back his daughter. Eventually, the DVD’s prenatal-pictures of his grandson-to-be softens his hard heart. There is a softening of his heart and reconciliation happens.
What will soften our hearts toward those who languish in poverty? Why don’t we get it? Jesus’ story should shock us into action.
We have two courses of action and we must pursue both. First we can give of our largesse to alleviate human misery here and abroad. This is charity and, by and large, we are pretty good about charity. The biblical call to do justice is much more difficult. We not only go to the soup kitchen; we work to change the structures that perpetuate poverty. Main street Christians must confront Wall Street and political powers and demand an economic system that is fair and just for all. However, we must also do justice. We must work to eliminate the structures–economic, political. and social–which impoverish and dehumanize people.
If we would listen to the prophets and Jesus, we would change our lives. Metanoia would occur on a grand scale. Ched Myers tells us that the foundational Old testament story is about the imperial economy of Egypt and God’s economy in the desert after God has delivered Moses and the Israelites. When they grumble for the “comforts” of the imperial economy, God jump starts the grace economy by sending them manna. There is enough for the day. They cannot hoard the manna. They gather enough for two days the day before the Sabbath. The Sabbath is for rest and to let creation rest. The prophets constantly and consistently calls us to care for the widows, orphans and the stranger.
New Testament passage after passage tells us that we cannot serve God and Mammon. Where our hearts are there our treasure is. If we meditate on the following passages and take them to heart, we will hear the Gospel call: Lk 12:15, Eph 5:3, 2, Pet 2:14, Col 3:5, 2 pet 2:3, Mt 19:23 (Lk 18:25, Mk 10:25), Lk 12:20, Lk 16:19-22, Lk 4:16-9 (notice the call to Jubilee, the economy of grace) Lk 1:46-54, Acts 2:43-47, 1 Tim 6:9, 2 Cor 8:8-15, James 1:10-11, James 5:1, Rev 3:18. Rev 8:19, Rev 21:1-4, and Rev 21:1-4. If the rich man had listened to the prophets and the Risen One, he would have alleviated Dives’ misery. Are we listening?