See if any of these sound familiar:
You are approaching a traffic light that has been green for quite some time. All you can think about is “making the light”. But there is one car in front of you . . . which begins slowing down . . . and slowing down . . . and slowing down. Sure enough, the light turns yellow and – you guessed it, you don’t make it in time.
Or you are in a store or fast food restaurant and the staff members seem to be working at a snail’s pace. And it doesn’t matter if there is one person in line or twenty. The employees work at one speed and one speed only – slowly! (The DMV, before COVID pandemic, often seem to operate this exact way. If you happen to work at the DMV – I said “seem”!)
Or the person in front of you at the bakery on a Saturday morning just starts considering what they want AFTER they get up to the front of the line. You hear them say, “Hmmm . . . let me think . . .” and it makes you want to bark at them for not having made up their mind while they were waiting for their turn.
If you are like me, you probably can’t stand it when people don’t have a sense of urgency, can’t stand it when people seem to be completely complacent about things that might demand a more aggressive or “hurry-up” approach. People who know me well (like Fr. Emmaunel of St. Jude in Franklin) know that I tend to lose patience somewhat quickly. Maybe you do the same.
In a certain sense, all three of our readings today address the problem of complacency – at least when it comes to our spiritual lives, our moral lives, our lives of faith. In the First Reading from Amos the prophet speaks about it emphatically.
“Woe to the complacent in Zion!”
Some people in the community had evidently become a little too content with their own comfort and pleasures and had begun neglecting their responsibilities to the less fortunate in their midst. It was as if their faith was put on the back-burner when times were good, when their needs and wants were being fulfilled. Suddenly they didn’t need God so much, or didn’t need to worry too much about helping their neighbors.
And in the Second Reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy he reminds him to,
“Compete well for the faith.”
St. Paul wanted Timothy to maintain a sense of urgency in both living out the Gospel, and spreading the Gospel to others. For St. Paul, there was no time to wait. Faith demanded one’s all, a total effort, a sort of persistence and dedication and relentlessness, the same kind of effort found in competition. St. Paul knew that Jesus deserved our very best, not a lukewarm or half-hearted response.
And in the Gospel passage from St. Luke we heard one of the most sobering stories in all of the Sacred Scripture – one in which a rich man dies and is tormented in the netherworld, while the man he ignored, the man he was indifferent to, the man who was invisible to him, dies and is carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham. And this difference in their respective destinies wasn’t because of something harmful the rich man did to the poor man, or because he had defrauded him in some way. Rather, it was simply that he chose to do nothing, chose to look the other way, chose to enjoy his life without lifting a finger for a man who desperately needed his help. In a very real sense, the rich man was guilty of simply saying in his heart, “It’s not my problem. It’s not my cup of tea.”
Complacency, complacency, complacency – a trait we often don’t like seeing in others, but one we often embrace when it comes to living out the demands of discipleship.
I’ll get around to this “discipleship thing” eventually.
I’ll be a better guy tomorrow or the next day or the next.
Somebody else will take care of it. Why do I need to get involved? That problem is too big. I can’t possibly make a difference. I’m tired. I work hard enough. I deserve everything I have.
I hope you get the picture. There is always some reason, some excuse for not being the person God calls us to be. And yet, time is one thing God never promised to us. And the person in need standing before us this moment may not pass our way again. And we can never presume that someone else will pick up the slack. All we have is this day, this hour, this very moment – this singular opportunity to do the right thing for the right reason for the right person.
And so, you may have heard that “patience is a virtue”. Well, that is probably true when it comes to facing the struggles of life, or in dealing with others. But patience is no virtue when it comes to ourselves – when it comes being the beautiful person God calls us to be and created us to be and died for us to be. In other words, the best version of ourselves. In fact, it may be the exact opposite. So let’s stop being complacent, or lazy, or indifferent. Rather, let’s be completely impatient in our desire to be a good person, a loving person, a holy person, the person God created us to be. The world needs us – not a year from now, or a month from now, or even tomorrow – but this very day. God can wait – but he shouldn’t have to. Let’s give him our all . . . starting now.