Sunday, September 25, 2016

Dives and Lazarus

                                    26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Just like last week, today's first reading is from the Book of the prophet Amos. We must remember that for the most part prophecy is not about foretelling the future but about calling attention to the wrongs in the present. Amos is no exception. His criticism of the idleness and greed of the well-to-do in his own time seems to ring true in our time as well.

He says, "Woe to the complacent in Zion!" What accusations does he bring? Their homes are furnished luxuriously. They eat the choicest foods and drink the finest wines. They sing and dance with abandon. Today, we have cable channels devoted to each of those subjects. We have food channels, fashion channels, music channels, and home improvement channels.

One of the key messages of the Hebrew scriptures is the obligation to care for the lowly and the poor. All were expected to act as good stewards on behalf of those in need. In today's first reading the Prophet Amos claims that his people have failed to come to the aid of the needy, and that they will suffer the consequences.

This same theme is the subject of today's gospel where Jesus tells the famous parable of the rich man and the poor beggar, Lazarus. This parable is the third famous story in the 16th chapter of Luke’s gospel. Two weeks ago we heard the story of the Prodigal Son, and last week it was the story of the unjust steward who cheated his master. Jesus tells the  stories to a group of Pharisees who were known for their strict, even rigid observance of every aspect of the Law. Jesus complains that while they make an outward show of goodness, they fail to abide by the true spirit of the Law.

Isn’t it obvious that the stories are directed to us as well. We live in the richest country in the history of the world. Even in these economic hard times the poor in our country are more well off than most of the rest of the people on the globe. A few years ago I heard a priest say that there are 7 million street boys in Brazil alone. These abandoned street children are ill-clothed, ill-fed, ill-housed, and ill-educated. Most are already involved in criminal activity and will surely not even live to manhood. Efforts to help often seem fruitless and counter-productive.It breaks your heart.

What can we do? Frankly, I think it would take a great saint like Mother Teresa to deal with such a problem. But she started out by reaching out to heal one single child. From that point through prayer and self sacrifice she built a world wide order of sisters devoted to caring for the poor. Most of us cannot match the zeal and skill of this great woman but maybe we could profit by looking closely at today’s gospel.

First, Jesus makes the care of the needy a personal thing. He does not talk about curing world hunger and bringing about world peace. He focuses on two men: one is incredibly rich and the other incredibly poor. The poor man does not live far away on another continent. He lives (maybe it’s more accurate to say dies) right outside the rich man’s palace. Jesus is saying that the Pharisees could have used the excuse that the beggar was unclean according to the Law, and not touchable by any self-respecting person. But Jesus is saying that this excuse in not available to us. The spirit of the law requires us to help.

Thank goodness most of us do. St. Paul certainly understood the message of today’s gospel. He tells the young priest, Timothy, that he has the obligation to see Christ in all those entrusted to his care, and warns him,

But if we deny Him

He will deny us.


Reading 1. Amos 6: 1a, 4-7
Reading II. 1 Timothy 6: 11-16
Gospel. Luke 16: 19-31( Dives and Lazurus).

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