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Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Year C

Ist Reading: Amos 6:1. 4-7
2nd Reading: 1 Timothy 6:11-16
Gospel: Luke 16:19-31

Today’s readings as usual contain much to ponder and to reflect upon. I have heard the story of the rich and the poor man called Lazarus many times. However, as I was reflecting upon it this week the word that kept coming to my mind is “indifference”. Jesus was not having a go at the rich man because he was rich but because he was indifferent to the plight and pitiful situation of Lazarus. This rich man knew about him. He could see him every day because he stood outside his door. However, he was too preoccupied with his own affairs that he did not even think about the needs of another person.

Unfortunately such an attitude is very still very common. Indifference kills our spirit. Elie Wiesel survived the Nazi Holocaust to become a writer. He is also famous for his determination to keep the world remembering about the horrors of the Nazi ideology against the Jewish people so that such atrocities do not happen again. He has been acclaimed by governments all over the world and he also won the Nobel Prize in 1986. On April 12, he was invited by President Clinton to the White House to give a lecture. His topic was on the evil of indifference and the obligation to intervene when others’ lives are in peril. He points out that, when humans react with indifference to the suffering of others, it is a descent unto inhumanity.

At one stage of his speech he said “Of course, indifference can be tempting -more than that seductive. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is often all awkward, troublesome to be involved in another person’s pain and despair. Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbours are of no consequences. And therefore, their lives are meaningless – their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the other to an abstraction”. Indeed many people in very high positions knew what was going on in those concentration camps and yet they did nothing or very little about it.

After the speech, President Bill Clinton said to Elie Wiesel “You have taught us never to forget. You have made sure that we always listen to the victims of indifference, hatred, evil. In October 1986 Wiesel had said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, its indifference”.

It could be that some of you gathered here heard of the name of Eric Bogle. He was born in Scotland and migrated to Australia. He is a song writer and singer and he manages to capture in song the attitudes and the prevailing patterns of behaviour of us as Australians, the good aspects and also the not so good thing ones . In a song entitled “A reason for it all”, he talks about Clare Campbell, an old lady who lived alone in one of the inner suburbs of Sydney. She had no friends. No one seemed to care about her or to call in every now and then and to say hello. Clare died alone. However the tragedy is that her dead body remained in her house for a long time before it was discovered. Such a tragedy, such a pity in a country like ours. Indifference once again played its terrible part with devastating results.

The refrain of this song captures well the attitude that can be present in many of us. “Don’t talk to me about lonely souls crying. Dark quiet rooms and old people dying. I don’t want to hear, don’t want to hear it at all. Tired old people die alone every day. Don’t blame me I didn’t make it that way. That’s just how it is, don’t look for a reason for it all”.

No wonder that Jesus condemned such an attitude most severely. And yet it does not take that much to fight indifference. It only takes an understanding deep down within us that every person as created by God has a dignity. This means that every person deserves our attention and our care. It means that if there are other people hurting, I hurt too. It means that I suffer with those who are suffering and rejoice with those who are rejoicing and not the other way round.

Moreover, fighting indifference can be achieved by small yet powerful gestures. A word of encouragement, a word of hope, a gesture of kindness, a gesture of compassion can be the instrument to bring life instead of death to instill hope in the midst of despair, to transform a person’s life when such a possibility seems to be impossible to achieve. Very often it only takes a simple small gesture from a heart which is sensitive to the very often hidden needs of another person which can make such a difference in a person’s life. And this is why it is possible for all of us to fight indifference.

I have just finished reading a book “Five Smooth Stones”. It is written by Steve Lawrence who was on of the Directors during the World Youth Day celebrations which were held in Sydney in 2008. In a very honest manner Steve describes his various emotions during different stages of the preparation for this great event. There were moments of great satisfaction and hope and also moments of grave doubts and almost despair. At one stage he was so low in morale that he was seriously thinking of leaving what he was doing. The emotional and personal pressure was getting too much.

One of his close collaborations noticed this and one day she sent him a little note. This is what she wrote, “Dear Steve, Its July … can you believe it. I just want you to know that I am praying for you and especially in these last 15 days. I think of all the suffering, trails and hardships you have gone through and I can only imagine the incredible and amazing fruits that you will be witnessing over the next three weeks because of your steadfast and persevering faith. Thank you”

It is a simple gesture isn’t it. Yet those few words gave Steve the necessary strength and purpose to persevere in what he was doing. We all know about the great results of that particular World Youth Day.

Yes it is easy to fight indifference. “Jesus give us a heart that loves like you, feels like you, understand like you, thinks like you and behaves like you. Amen”.

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