INDIFFERENCE AS THE REAL OBSTACLE TO CONVERSION

March 5, 2015 at 1:43 pm Leave a comment

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SCRIPTURE READINGS: JER 17:5-10; LK 16:19-31

http://www.universalis.com/20150305/mass.htm

The general theme during the second week of Lent is conversion.  This theme takes its cue from the gospel of the 2nd Sunday of Lent, which speaks of the Transfiguration of Jesus and the transforming experience of the apostles.  The motive for conversion, according to today’s scripture readings, is that there is some kind of continuity between this present life and the next; between now and the future.  Indeed, as Jeremiah prophesied, “I, the Lord, search to the heart, I probe the loins to give each man what his conduct deserves.”  We all know that this is certainly true.  But in spite of such warnings, how is it that we are still not responding to the call for conversion?

Where, then, is our heart?  What kind of heart do we have?  Are we a compassionate and merciful person, or are we indifferent towards those who suffer, be they human beings or even animals?   Very often, conversion, seen as metanoia, is a change of life, from one form to another.  It is supposedly a radical change.  We understand conversion as a change from an evil, worldly and selfish life to a good, godly and selfless life.  Why is it that some of us continue to live in a selfish manner towards other beings? How could we, in the face of human suffering, especially seeing our fellowmen suffering either from injustice, poverty, hunger or discrimination, turn a blind eye to their pain or worse still, be the cause and perpetuators of their suffering?  What is the cause of a hardened heart?

If conversion is difficult, it is because indifference has entered into our lives. This is the real obstacle towards conversion of heart.  Why? Because indifference is worse than hatred.  Between love and hatred, there is only a thin line.  Thus those whom we hate are really those we love.  But when love is spurned, hatred sets in. Indifference is the worst of all sins because it is the sin against the Holy Spirit.  It is when one is numb to the pains of our fellowmen, and of course to the pain of God, who showed His love for us in the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Being oblivious to their pain is what makes us commit sin since what we do not see, we do not feel and therefore do not care.  Seeing, of course, is more than physical sight, but the seeing of the heart.  So if we find ourselves not only sinning against our fellowmen but against God, it is because we do feel with them and certainly not with God, since He seems to be an invisible and absent figure.  No wonder, fools in the bible are those who think that God does not see.

This sin of indifference is exemplified by the rich man in today’s parable.  His real sin was not his hatred for Lazarus, but selfishness and worldliness expressed in his indifference.  He was so filled with himself, consumed by his wealth and the pleasures of life, that he did not even notice Lazarus outside his door.  As far as he was concerned, anyone outside his house was not his business.  He was totally oblivious to the predicament of Lazarus.  As the proverb says, there is none so blind as those who would not see.  Possibly, for the rich man, he could not stand the sight of Lazarus and so he mentally closed his mind to Lazarus’ presence.  It was not because he could not see but that he did not want to see.  Isn’t it true for many of us?  We see injustice and scandals all around us, but we turn a blind eye to the reality.  We are afraid to take action or champion the cause of truth and right, especially the voiceless, marginalized and the poor, for fear of falling out of favour with the powerful and the rich in society.   We try to soothe our conscience by suppressing it and rationalizing it.  Most likely, the rich man must have tried to justify why he should not help Lazarus. But as Jeremiah says, God knows the depth of our hearts.  We cannot deceive Him!

Ironically, only the dogs were sensitive to the presence of Lazarus and they attended to him by licking up his wounds.  Indeed, the dogs were more present to Lazarus than human beings.  This situation echoes the first reading when we are told, “A curse on the man who puts his trust in man, who relies on things of flesh, whose heart turns from the Lord.”   This is always the mistake of man, trusting in their fellowmen more than they trust God.  When we rely on the things of the world like the Israelites, tragedy befalls us. The Israelites trusted in their military might and their strength instead of being faithful to the Lord.  The rich man trusted in his own wealth, failing to realize he would not be able to take them to the next world.

Thus, those who have hardened their hearts to the needs and sufferings of their fellowmen, and continue to hurt and harm them or fail to assist when they can, will hinder themselves from finding true peace and joy.  Within this context, we can understand why Abraham told the rich man, “between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, to stop anyone, if he wanted to, crossing from our side to yours, and to stop any crossing from your side to ours.” Indeed, indifference is the worst sin against ourselves and our neighbours.  Indifference is worse than hatred, for if we are hated by our enemies, at least they acknowledge our existence.  But not so when people are indifferent to us because we do not even exist in their sight.

When we apply this truth to our personal and spiritual life, we can say that the real obstacle to conversion is not simply because we are sinners.  The real problem is that we have become indifferent to our sinful situation.  Like the rich man, we have grown used to the state of misery that we are in, so much so that we think that is the best kind of life to live.  Losing sensitivity to sin is the worst of all sins.  At least if we are aware that we are sinful, there is still an opportunity for conversion.  But when we have become identified with our sinfulness, there is very little hope of conversion.  As a result, sin, like cancer, grows gradually in us until we become totally indifferent to what life is all about.

But the most serious consequence of indifference is that we cannot hear God anymore.  We are unable to see the signs from God, like the Pharisees implied in today’s gospel.  The rich man symbolized the Pharisees who refused to change their lives even after hearing the gospel message of Jesus.  Like the rich man who implored that Lazarus be sent to warn his brothers of their impending destiny but was told that they would not listen to him; a time will come too when we who are so full of ourselves, our luxuries or our hurts that we cannot hear God’s promptings anymore.  Not even, as Jesus rightly said, “if someone should rise from the dead.”  To be incapable of love, of feeling with those in pain, is as good as being dead.  When the heart no longer feels, one ceases to be a real person.

Indeed, today, we are called to heed the advice of Jeremiah.  We must trust in God.  God knows our hearts, devious as they may be.  He knows our fears, our hurts, our attachments, and our slavery. He knows that perhaps these could be the reasons why we are too numbed to hear the invitation of Jesus to repent and live the life of the gospel.  Let us pray that God will soften our heart so that we can be docile to hear His Word and allow ourselves to melt in His love and so be able to love again.  Until that happens, conversion cannot yet begin.

But if we do not harden our hearts, then Jeremiah assures us that if we place our security in Him instead, relying on His strength, love and mercy, we will bear fruits of love and joy in our lives.  “A blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord. With the Lord for his hope. He is like a tree by the waterside that thrusts its roots to the stream: when the heat comes it feels no alarm, its foliage stays green; it has no worries in a year of drought, and never ceases to bear fruit.”  The psalmist confirms these words when he said, “Blessed are they who hope in the Lord. He is like a tree planted near running water, that yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaves never fade. Whatever he does, prospers.”

WRITTEN BY THE MOST REV WILLIAM GOH
ARCHBISHOP OF SINGAPORE
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

– See more at: http://www.csctr.net/reflections/#sthash.Q3QRgc8q.dpuf

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Entry filed under: Inspiring Faith.

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