Monday, September 23, 2013

Homily - 26th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

26th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

First Reading: Amos 6:1a, 4-7       Second Reading: 1 Timothy 6:11-16       Gospel Reading: Luke 16:19-31


The story is told of a Franciscan monk in Australia assigned to be the guide and 'gofer' to Mother Teresa when she visited New South Wales. Thrilled and excited at the prospect of being so close to this great woman, he dreamed of how much he would learn from her and what they would talk about. But during her visit, he became frustrated. Although he was constantly near her, the friar never had the opportunity to say one word to Mother Teresa. There were always other people for her to meet.
Finally, her tour was over, and she was due to fly to New Guinea. In desperation, the Franciscan friar spoke to Mother Teresa:
“If I pay my own fare to New Guinea, can I sit next to you on the plane so I can talk to you and learn from you?” Mother Teresa looked at him. "You have enough money to pay airfare to New Guinea?" she asked.
Yes,” he replied eagerly. "Then give that money to the poor," she said. "You'll learn more from that than anything I can tell you." Mother Teresa understood that Jesus' ministry was to the poor and she made it hers as well.

Today is the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. This Sunday’s Scripture lessons comprise an exhortation to those who have been greatly blessed with much by way of comfort and enjoying a life of luxury, but who’s response to blessedness has been a serious social blindness and insensitivity to both the needs of the poor and suffering around them and to genuine justice.

Today's First Reading from the Book of Amos is the last of three woes that the Lord God promised to inflict upon Judah and Israel because of their evil deeds. These nations had rulers who were idle, insensitive to the needs of the poor and lived in luxury. They believed that they were the chosen ones, living in God's chosen cities. They abandoned and despised outsiders, the poor and especially those who lived with integrity. Amos vehemently condemns the wanton revelry and godlessness of the Israelite people of his time. He predicts the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and tells that these people who trust in their wealth will be the first to be exiled by the Assyrians, sent off penniless to a distant corner of a foreign land to work for others.
The role of a prophet is to highlight where things are going wrong. It is not to provide all the answers or solutions. What is remarkable about Amos is that he would not be silenced and speaks out aloud in spite of the opposition he meets. His words will always be a reminder of the call from God for social justice and social inclusion, for, “God takes the side of the poor and needy.”

The Gospel Reading has a similarity. Again we hear of luxury and insensitivity. The rich man lived like a king and was totally insensitive to the needs of Lazarus. The difference in the Gospel of Luke versus the Book of Amos is that in the former reading, we heard of the outcome of such behavior. While the rich man may have been blessed with great luxury, he was only successful for a time. When he died, he could not take his luxury with him in the afterlife. None of his luxury could defend him against the judgment that awaited him. In fact, his luxury condemned him.
To those loving money:
In the context of St. Luke's Gospel, the parable of 'The Rich Man and Lazarus,' delivered in the presence of a crowd of listeners, is part of Jesus' response to some Pharisees. When Jesus related this story, his intent was to spiritually awaken the Pharisees who were fond of money. These Pharisees are described in Luke's Gospel as 'loving money.' They felt secure in their wealth, saw it as a sign of their virtue and scorned the poor. Jesus observed that the actions of those Pharisees betrayed misplaced priorities: they spoke one way, but acted in another. So a very sharply pointed parable with quite a contrast.
The rich man and Lazarus:
The parable of 'The Rich Man and Lazarus,' demonstrates the importance of the care of the poor and is a reminder to those who would follow Jesus of the unimportance of wealth in the eyes of God. Let’s look at the parable a little more closely. In this story Jesus paints a dramatic scene of contrasts - riches and poverty, heaven and hell, compassion and indifference, inclusion and exclusion. He starts off with a vivid, colorful description of the two main and contrasting characters:
The rich man, sometimes called Dives, which is the Latin word for rich man, is obviously wealthy and as expected can afford to be generous, but unfortunately he is not. Significantly he is nameless. He is dressed in purple and fine linen (an outfit similar to that worn by the high priest), lives in luxury, and sumptuously feasts every day.
On the other hand, there is the poor man named Lazarus, whose home is the rich man's gate and whose survival depended on the food that fell from his table. He is pitiful. Unlike that of the rich man's, his body is 'dressed' with sores which are licked by the dogs. Dogs in the ancient world symbolized contempt. Enduring the torment of these savage dogs only added to the poor man’s miseries and sufferings. Hebrews would have called the man impure and believed that he was being punished by God for some sin.
Now, parties are very much double-edged. They can welcome and they can exclude. The ornate gateway of the rich man's house welcomes his five brothers to his party, but keeps out the poor man Lazarus. It prevents the rich man using his wealth as it should be used for the poor. Lazarus lies day after day in the gateway, which is the outward sign of the sumptuous interior of the house. Lazarus doesn't even get an occasional doggie-bag of goodies to alleviate his hunger. He longs for even the leftovers. Indeed he is so weak that he is unable to fend off the feral doggies, who lick his ulcerating sores.
Reversal of fortunes:
In the next scene, we jump to the sudden deaths of both the poor man and the rich man. The poor man dies. Soon after, the rich man also dies. We also see an abrupt and dramatic reversal of fortunes. Death plays no favorites. The rich man doubtless received an elaborate burial but ... finds himself in Hades... The poor man dies - no one even cares for his body - that is left to the angels, who carry him to Abraham's bosom. Nothing was said about the moral goodness of Lazarus that made him deserve heaven. Nor was it mentioned that the rich man was wicked.
This reversal is not simply because Lazarus was poor and the rich man was rich. It is because the rich man neglected Lazarus day after day. The rich man despised Lazarus, excluded him and did not treat him as a human being of equal dignity. He treated the beggar with contempt and indifference. He might not have done something really evil but he did not do the good that needed to be done. He was guilty of the sin of omission. In God's economy, those who hold on possessively to what they have, lose it all in the end, while those who share generously receive back many times more than they gave away.
The name 'Lazarus' means 'God is my help.' Despite a life of misfortune and suffering, Lazarus did not lose hope in God. His eyes were set on a treasure stored up for him in heaven. The rich man, however, could not see beyond his material wealth and possessions. He not only had every thing he needed, he selfishly spent all he had on himself. He was too absorbed in what he possessed to notice the needs of those around him. He lost sight of God and the treasure of heaven because he was preoccupied with seeking happiness in material things. He served wealth rather than God.
Excuses too late:
One day, the rich man lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. What followed was the rich man's request to Abraham, that Lazarus be sent to him so he could dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue, because he was in agony from the flames. In the end the rich man himself became a beggar! Abraham confronts the rich man with the reality of the situation he prepared for himself by his selfish life. His earthly life has resulted in his present state. Also that there is a great chasm between them which no one could cross.
It was his tongue the rich man had so sated with sumptuous food. Now it burns. But he has learned nothing - he thinks of Lazarus as of no account, fit only to be sent on the errand of bringing him - the formerly rich man - some water as relief.
Trying another tack, he asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his father's house to warn his five brothers so as to spare them from his fate, lest they also come into this place of torment. But Abraham refused again saying, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.” The rich man made the excuse when it was too late that he did not realize what was going on.

The Second Reading of today is the conclusion of the First Letter to Timothy, a leader of the early Christian community. The writer, St. Paul, exhorts Timothy to lead a life of piety and integrity, and urges him to serve others by practicing all the virtues, that is, strengths we see in Jesus. Timothy must "fight the good fight of faith" and be committed to the truth until the Lord comes again. He must be proactive and “Lay hold of eternal life” by engaging life fully. Passive religious faith, whether among leaders or general members, amounts to irresponsible thoughtlessness and lazy complacency. There is always something more to do by way of engaging the Gospel.
Now, when St. Paul tells Timothy to “fight the good fight of the faith,” he is stating two things. First of all, he is comparing the Christian faith to a race and exhorting to persevere to the end. Secondly, he is reminding Timothy that at his baptism, he has made a profession of faith before many witnesses. Before God, the Church and the faithful, Timothy has an obligation to persevere in his faith to the end of the race. Timothy is charged to keep the commandments without spot or blame. In other words, he is charged to protect the complete deposit, all the truths of the Catholic faith that had been entrusted to him. Towards the end of his life, St. Paul would himself say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."

To conclude, it is to us in our own generation that Amos preaches! It is to us that Jesus’ parallel of the Rich Man and Lazarus is addressed. The Gospel obligation to care for the poor and needy is absolute and unavoidable, and is an important virtue in the life of discipleship. Even the needy are expected to share among themselves. But, the moral of the story in both Amos’ text and in Jesus’ parable is that there will be profound and dire consequences for neglecting our needy neighbors. It is a warning to all of us not to turn a blind eye to the plight of the poor and needy who are just outside our gate. For “God takes the side of the poor and needy.” And helping those who are poor and in need is the 'way' to come closer to God, a 'bridge' for crossing to the Lord. Otherwise, we will be faulted with the sin of omission - as was the rich man - to our eternal damnation. And this is the Good News of today.


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