Sunday Scriptures

Real Love Takes The Risk

TWO WOMAN”S NAMES are indelibly marked into history for very different reasons: Marie Antoinette and Catherine “Kitty” Genovese.

Although there is question as to whether the 18th century monarch ever used the words, Marie Antoinette is often quoted as saying, “Let them eat cake,” in response to the news that the poor had no bread. The actual phrase, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” or “Let them eat brioche” (a form of sweet bread), was a phrase attributed to the aristocracy as a criticism of their neglect of the poor, or better put, of their indifference to the poor.

Kitty Genovese was stabbed outside her Kew Gardens apartment on March 13, 1964. In the aftermath it was discovered that dozens of witnesses had heard her screams but did nothing. The contrast between the histories of the two women is that we never know if Marie Antoinette was aware of the plight of the poor. For her, the concept of having nothing to eat was foreign so the suggestion may simply have been equivalent to saying, “If they have no bread, let them eat something else.” Witnesses to the murder of Kitty Genovese knew something was wrong.

That is the dilemma in today’s Gospel. The unnamed rich man dies and from eternal punishment longs for a drop of water from Lazarus, a poor man who was outside his door on earth but is now in heaven. The predicament is that the Gospel never tells us that the rich man knew Lazarus was out there begging. It tells us how the rich man dressed and ate, and makes us aware of Lazarus’ suffering. But it does not tell us directly that the rich man was aware of but disinterested in Lazarus’ plight. We presume that.

Outside Their Doors

Somehow, in reading the passage we presume that either the rich man did know Lazarus was there or that he should have known Lazarus was there. The same way history presumes that Marie Antoinette and the French aristocracy of her day should have known what was happening outside their doors among the poor, so too this rich man is judged for failing to know that he could and should have helped.

A few years ago I had the sad experience of being called to the home of a parishioner by the police who were there with an ambulance. I was amazed at what I saw and smelled. Gratefully, she was alive and able to get help, but the conditions in which she had been living were incredibly sad.

The police were knocking on the doors of neighbors to gain information. Over and over, their question, “But didn’t you smell something; didn’t you realize something was wrong?” was met with silent stares. Perhaps some of these men and women were living sad stories of their own; perhaps they had the all-too-common fear of getting involved.

Rather than pass judgment, the world would be better served if we simply learned the lesson. In our neighborhoods, parishes and sometimes even our homes, there are many who are in need. It can be difficult to confront a loved one about a problem with drugs, alcohol, gambling, overeating or any form of substance or behavioral abuse. Sometimes it is easier to “not notice” or “mind our own business” than to risk another’s anger through confrontation and intervention.

The 1983 AdCouncil campaign, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” intended to bring home the idea that real friendship, real love does take the risk because the potential loss “not getting involved” can cause is too great. Twenty-twenty hindsight is not productive.

The first reading from the Book of Amos warns against complacency, enjoying our comfort, oblivious to the needs of others around us. In First Timothy, we are charged to pursue righteousness and compete for the faith: to take action where action is needed. The Gospel invites us to awareness – to open our eyes and our minds so we can open our hearts.

Readings for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time  

Amos 6: 1A, 4-7

Psalm 146: 7, 8-9, 9-10

1 Timothy 6: 11-16

Luke 16: 19-31


Msgr. Joseph P. Calise is the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, Williamsburg.