BY: Benedict Agbo (Rev Fr)


*Amos 6: 1 – 7, 1 Tim 6: 11 – 16, Lk 16: 18 – 31.

Last Sunday’s readings centered on exploitation; those who trample on the needy and suppress the poor. But today’s readings center on spiritual laxity /insensitivity both in relation to self and to others: Being relaxed at the sins of others, eg The case of Eli, 1 Sam 4, and at the sufferings of others, eg The case of Dives, the rich man is a big problem. The prophet Amos warns us in today’s 1st reading: ‘Woe to those comfortable in Zion… and who care not about the ruin of Joseph’.
According to Edmund Burke: ‘The only reason for the triumph of evil is that good men sit back, say nothing and do nothing’. As we watch examination malpractice (EXPO) grow in our schools and say nothing; as we watch bribery and corruption grow among the Police and in our Universities and Colleges of Education and we do nothing; As we watch our Politicians and Leaders embezzle public funds, seize workers’ salaries only to waste public funds in campaigns and we say nothing; As we watch our young men wear masquerades (Akatakpa and Odo) and keep molesting poor cyclists and we say nothing; we all face the danger of spiritual insensitivity.

1. The danger of wealth.
In this beautiful parable, the condition of wealth is summarized with the following dangers presented to our spiritual life;
(a) Luxury; The imagery of a certain rich man, gorgeously dressed in purple and fine linen and feasting sumptuously everyday.
(b) Indirect exploitation of the poor; He did not insult or beat the poor man. But he cared not for the poor beggar and rather had his dogs cared for from the poor man’s wounds. It is often the reality in our society that the rich benefit more from the poor than vice versa, even in our Churches.
(c) Spiritual laxity /insensitivity about sin /sufferings of the poor; This is the greatest danger that comes with wealth.
(d) Presumptuous worship; Often times, the rich do not worship God in the Spirit. They come to Church only on Launching /Barzar days when they will be applauded not for God to be glorified. The final consequence will be that they will find themselves in the bossom of Hades.
2. The condition of poverty
The condition of poverty is also summarized with the following dangers;
(a) Sores /sicknesses; Due to lack of Medicare, the poor, like Lazarus in this passage, are often afflicted with sicknesses and they die before their time.
(b) Hunger; The poor are often hungry and they suffer want.
(c) Ego depletion /beggarly mentality; The poor are often intimidated by the rich. Most times, they lose their ego /self esteem and become sychophants. Some develop a ‘beggarly mentality’ that does not even allow them to reason anymore about what to do with their lives in order to earn a living.
(d) Righteous worship; Those of them that put their trust in God end up in the bossom of Abraham while those that go into idolatry end up as witches and wizards (buru ogbenye burukwa amosu).
3. The condition of Hell
The condition of hell (hades) is also summarized in this passage;
(a) Torment: The pains of the rich man is disastrous. Fulton Sheen describes the pains of hell as Pain of Loss and Pain of Sense. It is isolation from everything that is good and encounter with everything that is painful. Besides, ‘there is a big gulf between us (those happy in heaven) and you (those sorrowful in hell)’, Lk 16: 26.
* A theologian once said that ‘Hell is not so much where we go as what we become after death (ie our state)’.
(b) Unanswered prayers; The worst experience of hell is the experience of unanswered prayers. Mr Dives made 2 prayer requests that were all turned down: (i) To have his pains alleviated – ‘O let your finger in the water come and cool my tongue for I’m in a terrible pain’, (ii) To send priests from heaven to go and preach to his siblings still alive on earth. Both prayer points were unanswered because after death there is only a ‘communion of Saints’. There will be no ‘communion of sinners’ in hell and those on earth.

According to Kent Hughes, in his book ‘The Disciplines of a godly man’, there are 5 causes of spiritual insensitivity which believers must watch against;
(a) Disensitization; It can come through withdrawal from our sources of devotion, bad company or spiritual laziness.
(b) Relaxation; It comes when we relax into our comfort zones like David (when he stopped going to wars and got up from resting and was strolling in his balcony, he saw a woman bathing and the woman was very beautiful, 2 Sam 11: 1 – 2).
(c) Fixation /Bad habits; When we allow our minds to get obsessed by impure thoughts or form bad habits like smoking, alcohol or womanizing.
(d) Rationalization /Bad Ideology; When our hearts go into sin, it becomes easier for our intellect to rationalize it away.
(e) Degeneration /Laxity; We now gradually move deeper and deeper into the sea of troubles and sin. Like David, moving from impure thoughts – toasting a woman – kissing – romance – sex – pregnancy – murder. The end point is spiritual insensitivity. It took a strong man of God, Prophet Nathan, to bring him back to his senses, 2 Sam 12.
According to Kent Hughes, there are 7 Disciplines of a Godly man, 1 Tim 6: 11 – 16;
(a) Accountability /sensitivity about sin, Jn 3: 6.
(b) Prayer /meditation /spiritual vigilance, Lk 18: 1.
(c) Memorization of the Word of God, Ps 119: 9, 1Thess 4: 3.
(d) Disciplining of the Mind, Job 31: 6, Col 3: 1, Phil 4: 8.
(e) Building hedges /obstacles against sin.
(f) Facing reality / understanding our human weaknesses.
(g) Divine awareness /having a good conscience, Gen 39.

Having gone through the biblical messages for today, we hereby draw the following conclusions;
1. It was not the wealth of Mr Dives that put him in trouble (sent him to hell) but the illusion caused by his wealth – an illusion that made him insensitive and the illusion that made him play God.
– Ps 49: 12 – ‘In his riches man lacks wisdom. He is like a beast that is destroyed’.
– According to Helder Camara: ‘Poverty makes a person subhuman while wealth makes one inhuman’.
– That’s why the scriptures say: ‘O God, give me neither poverty nor riches – Grant me only my share of food for fear that surrounded by plenty I should fall away and say ‘Yahweh – who is Yahweh? or else, in destitution, take to stealing and profane the name of my God’, Prov 30: 8.
– Always remember that ‘The excess wastes from our tables belong by right to the poor’.
2. It was not also the poverty of Mr Lazarus that sent him to heaven because poverty is not a virtue. What saved him was that he put his trust in God.
– ‘Lazarus’ and ‘Eleazer’ in Hebrew means ‘God is my helper; my dependence is on God. That man may have missed chances of becoming rich through illegitimate means like stealing, bribery and corruption and ended up a poor man.
– He was like Abraham who ‘put his faith in God’ and depended on God as his great provider, Gen 22: 14.
– The Bible says that ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit and those who mourn, those persecuted for righteousness sake – those denied their rightful marks or promotions for maintaining their purity, Matt 5: 3 – 6.
3. We must watch against spiritual insensitivity; We must never be comfortable in the midst of sin or in the face of the poverty of a neighbour near us.
4. We must be careful to listen to the prophets that God has sent to our parishes because there will be no other thing God will do to save us and our siblings.
5. We must remember that beyond the grave, our comfort zones become our achiles heels; The name ‘Dives’ is our common name. Jesus doesn’t want him honoured or because he knows that we all share in his identity.
*Death is deliverance for the righteous poor men and doom for the stingy rich men.
– Take note that Lazarus died first. So do so many poor men.The evil men’s lives are often prolonged to see if they will repent. But often times, these days, the rich die because of what they eat (so much cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases, etc). They kill themselves with luxury, alcoholism and immorality.
6. There is need to confront our wrong ideologies (comfort mentality and consumerism) especially our Youths who now despise all forms of manual labour and exercise (prefer taking okada to walking to nearby schools and offices).
*Testimony of a Rich man; How he grew – as his income grew, he maintained his comfort level (2 room apartment) and invested his excess and paid his tithe.
7. Those who exile /isolate themselves from the poor on earth must be exiled from them in heaven.
– Somebody is sitting at your gate begging, not necessarily for bread, maybe for a word, recognition, appreciation, companionship, fellowship, love or forgiveness… The time to give is now.
– Death is our common destiny – a universal leveller for both the rich and the poor. When the rich man (Dives) died, men accompanied him to his graveside for imminent decay and annihilation but when Lazarus died, angels of God carried him away to the bossom of Abraham – to eternal rest and reward.
* Help me sing this song but be smart enough to replace the 3rd person pronoun (him /her) with the 1st person (us) : Ndi nso nke Chukwu nyerenu anyi aka (Saints of God, help us…). Happy Sunday dear friends!

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