We have entered into another gilded age here in the United States. If you want proof of that, we only have to look as far as the Fortune 400 list which once again for the second year in a row shows that the wealthiest people in America are all billionaires. My current job as an executive assistant at an investment bank allows me to peek in to this world of the rich and powerful. Over the years, I have to come notice that the sense of noblesse-oblige is missing. Noblesse-oblige is a sense of duty of the upper class that instills within them an obligation to lift up not as fortunate (which today includes millionaires!) and grant the ordinary citizen with access to things they normally wouldn’t have (such as art, music, a fine education, and so on).
I know two of them men on this list personally. Both of them have amassed great wealth, travel in the stratosphere of social and political realms, but they could not be more different. One of them, who admittedly is 20 years the other’s senior and ranks considerably lower on the list says, “I now have more money than what I am able to do with, or what I can leave my children. So, I shall give it all away so that the rest of the world can reap from the benefit of my hard work.” The other man who ranks much higher says, “there is no such thing as too much money. I will take my company public and literally sell myself to gain a profit. Amassing more and more wealth and living in more and more luxury is what matters. I .. got … mine.” These two men, of similar stature in the eyes of the world, could not be more different in their outlook on life.
Today’s Gospel passage is a parable about two men whose lives are even more strikingly different. One of the men is unnamed, and he is very, very wealthy. If Palestine had a “Forbes 400” list, he most certainly would have been on it. He lived in luxury and excess. If he lived in the time of the prophet Amos, I am sure that Amos would have included him in his words preaching against the self indulgence of the wealthy. Such self-indulgence and conspicuous consumption can eventually lead to complacency. These type of folks live in a bubble where they become de-sensitized to the things that happen outside of their social sphere. This is evident in how he was able to ignore Lazarus, the beggar outside his gates, and the other main figure in the parable. It wasn’t as if the rich man didn’t want to help Lazarus, it was just as if he wasn’t worth the trouble. After all, he just would come back and ask for more, wouldn’t he?