||Home > Church > 2013-09-23 08:36:24
26th Sunday – 29 September, 2013
Am 6:1a, 4-7; 1Tm 6:11-16; Lk 16: 19-31Guideposts magazine, several years ago, published an account of how a young woman named Mary Bowers MacKorell found an effective weight loss plan. Mary’s doctor told her she needed to lose several pounds. She went through many diet plans, counted her and used dietetic foods, but found she just didn’t have the necessary willpower. One day she received a pamphlet about needy people in her mail. Pictured on the pamphlet was a dark-skinned, scrawny, near skeletal boy. MacKorell says that she experienced a kind of spiritual shock treatment at the sight of the starving child. She began to think more seriously about how she could take off unnecessary pounds and put them where they were needed on this starving child. "At last I had a spiritual motivation for reducing," she said. "Under God’s guidance I formed a practical plan and carried it through. For a period of ten days I ate only two meals a day, skipping lunch. Each day at the lunch hour I sipped a sugar free drink and looked at the picture of the starving boy. I prayed to God to bless him and let my extra weight be transferred to him or someone like him. For each lunch I omitted I placed in a box for missions one dollar saved. "Now there is a diet plan I can recommend.” The parable of the rich man and Lazarus in today’s gospel gives all of us a similar diet plan.
The main theme of this Sunday is the warning that the selfish and extravagant use of God’s blessings, like wealth, with no share going to the poor and the needy, is a serious sin deserving eternal punishment. Today’s readings stress the truth that wealth without active mercy for the poor is great wickedness. Amos, in the first reading, issues a powerful warning to those who seek wealth at the expense of the poor and who spend their time and their money only on themselves. He prophesies that those rich and unsympathetic people in the Southern kingdom of Judah will be punished by God with exile because they don’t care for their poor and suffering brothers in the North. The Psalm praises Yahweh, who cares for the poor. In the second reading, Paul admonishes us to "pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness" – noble goals in an age of disillusionment – rather than riches. In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us a warning, pointing to the destiny of the rich man who neglected his duty to show mercy to poor Lazarus. The rich man was punished, not for having riches, but for neglecting the Scriptures and what they taught.
Amos’ message from the Lord God in the first reading was couched in a series of oracles, words and woes, and visions. Today’s first reading is from the third woe concerning self-indulgence (6: 1-14), an excellent companion text for today’s gospel. The prophet Amos laments the self-indulgence and fraternal indifference of “the complacent in Zion” (the rich elite in Judah of the Southern Kingdom), while their unfortunate brothers and sisters in the Northern Kingdom (Israel) were about to be destroyed by their enemies, the Assyrians. They were insensitive to the imminent collapse of the tribes of “Joseph” in the Northern Kingdom who also belonged to the Chosen People of Yahweh. The collapse of Joseph is not Judah’s collapse. But by designating the northern kingdom “Joseph,” Amos calls attention to the patriarchal traditions Israel shares with Judah. What kind of brother satisfies expensive tastes while his younger brother suffers? Amos tells them that the solidarity one expects of a brother, cannot be found among Judah’s elite, people who prefer good food and drink to coming to the aid of other suffering members of the same family. Hence, the Lord God says that He will punish those rich and unsympathetic people of Judah with exile. The prophecy was fulfilled when the Southern Kingdom – Judah with Jerusalem as its capital- was razed to the ground in 587 BC by the army of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, and its elite rich were led to a humiliating and punishing exile in Babylon.
In the second reading, we have Timothy who held a position in the church at Ephesus like that of the modern Bishop. He was relatively young, and of mixed Jewish and Gentile parentage. In the letter, the senior apostle Paul gave the young bishop advice and encouragement. After warning Timothy (6: 10) that "the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains," he reminded Timothy of his “confession” and obligation to keep the “commandment” of sharing love. The "noble confession in the presence of many witnesses" probably referred either to Timothy's Baptism or to his Ordination. Timothy, the ordained priest and consecrated Bishop was reminded of the Faith he had confessed at his Baptism and was now, as the Bishop, called to bear witness to Christ as a loyal teacher of that Faith. The message for us is that the generous sharing of our talents and resources is the necessary response of our Christian commitment.
Jesus in the Gospel today tells this parable to condemn the Pharisees for their love of money and lack of mercy for the poor. He also used the parable to correct three Jewish misconceptions propagated by the Sadducees: 1) Material prosperity in this life is God’s reward for moral uprightness, while poverty and illness are God’s punishment for sins. Hence, there is no need to help the poor and the sick for they have been cursed by God. 2) Since wealth is a sign of God’s blessing, the best way of thanking God is to enjoy it by leading a life of luxury and self-indulgence in dress, eating and drinking, of course, after giving God His portion as tithe. 3) The parable also addressed the false doctrine of the Sadducees denying the survival of the soul after death, and the consequent retribution our deeds and neglects in this life receive in the next. Jesus challenges these misconceptions through the parable and condemns the rich who ignore the poor they encounter. The parable also offers an invitation to each one of us to be conscious of the sufferings of those around us and to share our blessings generously.
The parable is presented as a one act play with two scenes. The opening scene presents the luxurious life of the rich man in costly dress, enjoying five course meals every day, in contrast to the miserable life of the poor and sick beggar living in the street by the rich man’s front door, competing with stray dogs for the crumbs discarded from the rich man’s dining table. As the curtain goes up for the second scene the situation is reversed. The beggar Lazarus is enjoying heavenly bliss as a reward for his fidelity to God in his poverty and suffering, while the rich man is thrown down into the excruciating suffering of hell as punishment for not doing his duty of showing mercy to the poor by sharing with the beggar at his door the mercies and blessings God has given him
Naturally, we are tempted to ask the question, why was the rich man punished? He did not drive either the poor beggar or the stray dogs from in front of his door nor prevent either from sharing the discarded crumbs and leftovers from his table. The Fathers of the Church find three culpable omissions in the rich man in the parable. a) He neglected the poor beggar at his door by not helping him to treat his illness or giving him a small house to live in. b) He ignored the scrolls of Sacred Scriptures kept on his table reminding him of Yahweh’s commandment in the book of Leviticus (15: 7-11) “ Don’t deny help to the poor. Be liberal in helping the widows and the homeless.” c) He led a life of luxury and self-indulgence totally ignoring the poor people around him, with Cain’s attitude: “Am I the guardian of my brother?” It is not wrong to be rich, but it is wrong not to share our blessings with our less fortunate brothers and sisters.
This parable teaches important lessons: a) It reminds us that eventually all of us will experience God’s justice after our death (“particular judgment”), when we are asked to give an account of our lives. b) It points to the Law and the Prophets (the Sacred Scriptures), as ways to learn how to practice righteousness and sacrificial sharing. c) It looks ahead to our resurrection ("neither will they be convinced if someone rises from the dead"), and the reality that some people will heed nothing and die unrepentant. d) God permits injustices in this life, though not in the next. e) Perhaps the main lesson of this parable is that supreme self-love is total moral depravity, and making self-gratification one's supreme goal in life does not merely lead to sin – it is sin.
Life messages: 1) We are all rich enough to share our blessings with others. God has blessed each one of us with wealth or health or special talents or social power or political influence or a combination of many blessings. The parable invites us to share what we have been given with others in various ways, instead of using everything exclusively for selfish gains.
2) We need to remember that sharing is the criterion of Last Judgment: Matthew (25: 31ff), tells us that all six questions to be asked of each one of us by Jesus when He comes in glory as our judge are based on how we have shared our blessings from Him (food, drink, home, mercy and compassion), with others. In his weekly audience in the 1st week of June Pope Francis said “This culture of waste has made us insensitive even to the waste and disposal of food, which is even more despicable when all over the world, unfortunately, many individuals and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition. There was a time when our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any leftover food. Consumerism has led us to become used to an excess and daily waste of food, to which, at times we are no longer able to give a just value. Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of the poor and the hungry.” He said.
3) We need to treat the unborn as our brother/sister, Lazarus. The Lazarus of the 21st century is also our preborn brother and sister. These babies are brutally executed in their mother’s wombs. Their cries for a chance to live are rejected thousands of times a day in our world. This is the person torn apart and thrown away by abortion. The rich man was condemned for not treating Lazarus as his brother. We also will be condemned for our selfishness if we do not treat the preborn as our brother and sister. "Who am I to interfere with a woman's choice to abort?" I am a brother, a sister of that child in the womb! I am a human being who has enough decency to stand up and say "NO!" when I see another human being about to be killed. I am a person gifted with enough wisdom to realize that injustice to one human being is injustice to every human being, and that my own life is only as safe as the life of the preborn child. Finally, I am a follower of the One who said, "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me."
4) Our choices here determine the kind of eternity we will have. It has been put this way: "Where we go hereafter depends on what we go after, here." Where we will arrive depends on what road we travel. We get what we choose, what we live for. We are shaping our moral character to fit in one of two places.
The parish church was badly in need of repair. So the pastor called a special meeting inside the church to raise funds. At the assembly the pastor explained the need of an emergency fund for plastering the roof and supporting pillars and the other areas which needed repair. He invited pledge of contributions. After a brief pause Mr. Murphy, the richest man in the parish, volunteered he would give 50 dollars. Just as he sat down, a hunk of plaster fell from the ceiling on the head of Mr. Murphy. He jumped up looking terribly startled and corrected himself: “I meant to say 500 dollars.” The congregation stood silent and stunned. Then a lone voice cried out: “Oh Lord, hit him again!”
(Source: Fr. Anthony Kadavil’s Homilies.)