Sunday, September 25, 2022

Between the Fiddle & the Fire

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
(World Day of Migrants & Refugees)

Readings: Amos 6: 1, 4-7; Psalm 145 (146): 7-10; 1 Timothy 6: 11-16; Luke 16: 19-31

Picture: cc paurian on Flickr

My dear friends, what do you think? Is there anything wrong with playing the violin? Of course not, right? And yet, haven’t we heard the phrase, to fiddle while Rome burns? It means to do something relatively trivial or irresponsible in the midst of a crisis or an emergency. On its own, fiddling is not a sin. But to do it when I should really be helping to put out a raging fire must surely be wrong, if not possibly a sign of insanity.

To fiddle while Rome burns. This is also the sinful tendency highlighted in both the first reading and the gospel. And I have to confess that I say this with a certain tremor in my heart, because I find this tendency in myself as well. The tendency to be so absorbed in seeking, securing and savouring my own comfort, success and enjoyment – including that of my family, my community and country – that I become oblivious to the suffering of many others around me. The readings speak of sprawling on cosy beds, dressing in fine clothes, feasting on sumptuous foods, even inventing musical instruments, without caring about the ruin of Joseph, or the misery of poor Lazarus. Fiddling while Rome burns.

And isn’t it truly sobering to consider how easy it is to fall into this sin today? Continually, we receive news from around the world of people suffering terribly from the effects of climate-change, of economic disparity, of war and conflict. Effects which, I’m told, my own lifestyle somehow contributes to exacerbating, even if only in small ways. Surely, it can’t be right for me to focus only on enjoying my own life, without somehow attending to all this suffering.

What then am I to do? The scriptures offer not so much a prescription of solutions as a process of growth. A process that begins with what the rich man was hoping to do for his brothers, after his death. He wanted to help them repent. To turn their apathy into compassion. Beginning perhaps with a tremor in the heart. So that they might be more receptive to the voice of the Lord, and the cries of those who suffer, including the migrants and refugees we especially remember today. For the Lord protects the stranger… upholds the widow and orphan but thwarts the path of the wicked.

And that’s not all. Beyond repentance and receptivity, there is yet another step in the process. We find it in the second reading, where Paul reminds Timothy of his God-given duty. A duty we all share, by virtue of our baptism. The duty to fight the good fight of faith. To engage in an ongoing struggle, first against my own selfish and narcissistic tendencies, and then to bravely bear witness to the truth in the world, as Jesus did before Pontius Pilate. To share in the Cross of Christ, so as to share in his Resurrection, giving glory and praise to our God… Repentance, receptivity and struggle. This is the pilgrim journey that the scriptures mark out for us.

Sisters and brothers, amid the fires engulfing our world, what must we do to help one another focus less on our fiddles, so as to walk this path together more resolutely today?

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