Thursday, May 27, 2010

Affluence and Ease

Old Testament scholar Walter Breuggemann says that the first stage of prophetic criticism is embracing grief. Prophets were able to see the other’s loss as their loss. They hurt for the poor, the downcast and the outcast. They were able to put themselves in the place of the lost and least. Hence, their righteous anger at the neglect of the poor. They felt the pain of the poor.

In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 15:19-31), we see a man who is blind to his neighbor’s plight. The rich man feasts each day, but he doesn’t really see the poor soul that lay at the gate to his home hoping for a few crumbs. Of course, this is a classic parable of reversal. For after death, their situations are reversed. The parable says that the advent of God’s kingdom means the turning upside-down of the present social order.

Luxury itself is not the problem. Neither the Old Testament prophets nor the rest of the Bible advocates asceticism, the idea that giving up comfort and pleasure will make one a better person. But the comfort of luxury becomes a problem when gained at the expense of others’ misery and when it deadens us to a sense of compassion and responsibility.

For the prophet Amos, it was the effect of luxury on one’s mind that is the real issue. Being “at ease” had led the affluent of his day to adopt the attitude: As long as I’m comfortable, that’s all that matters. Why disturb my comfort by worrying about the plight of others? We need to recognize the dangers of affluence, how it can diminish our compassion and how it can shift the focus of our lives onto self more than others.

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