THE TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C – September 29, 2013

The Book of the Prophet Amos 6:1a, 4-7

The first Letter of St. Paul to Timothy 6:11-16

The holy Gospel according to Luke 16:19-31

 

Have you ever seen someone standing for the proclamation of the Gospel not even cover his mouth as he yawns and then stares off into space as the reading goes on?  He’ll say, Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ with the rest of the Assembly and then sit for the preaching.  I always wonder what such a one has heard.  Did any of the words penetrate his consciousness, or was he trying to remember who won the football game?  If we, like the yawner, allow ourselves to drift off, we are not going to hear the Gospel either, or be confronted by it, much less converted by the Word of the Lord.  Perhaps the Assembly instinctively shields itself, lest they, like many in the first audience become angry by what Jesus is saying, the values he confronts.  We shouldn’t forget that Jesus’ story telling so infuriated the establishment that they wanted him dead.  Kill him rather than be changed by him.

The thing is, it is okay to be upset by what you hear as long as you don’t stop there.  Focus on what upsets you.  That will tell you to what you have to die in order to follow Jesus more closely.  Remember, the walk of faith is a life-long conversion process that began at Baptism and won’t be finished until you breathe forth your spirit in peace.  So hang on.  This Sunday could be a rough ride.

The first reading from the Prophet Amos is directed toward the complacent in Zion or Seattle, or Chicago, or New York City or anywhere else the faithful gather.  Complacency is an interesting word.  My dictionary defines it as self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.  Amos addresses those among God’s chosen people who have made it, as we would say today, the elite, the first tier of society.  Never having been on that rung, can I breathe a sigh of relief and watch others squirm?  Probably not.  The elite are the ones who are able to partake of the best that life can offer – the finest meats and wines and surround themselves with the best furnishings that money can by.  They can be artsy and pretentious.  There is nothing particularly sinful about what they are doing.  They might even be thanking God all the while for the good fortune that is theirs, thinking of it all a signs of God’s favor.  Notice that some of what they feast upon ought to be given to God in the temple sacrifice.  (Our tithing applies here.)  Aside from that dereliction, there isn’t anything blatantly sinful in what the wealthy are doing.  So what is it that Amos wants the complacent in Zion to hear in his prophetic message?  That’s the same as asking what God wants the people to hear, by the way.

Think of the two great commandments in The Law.  Love God with your entire being.  Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Jesus linked the two commandments and made them one, making it impossible to fulfill one without fulfilling the other.  Now we see what Amos is announcing.  This people with all their indulgencing in lavishness are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph!  Here, Joseph represents all of the people, especially the poor, the widows and the orphans who are supposed to be the objects of their special care.  The rich, in effect, separate the love of God from the love of neighbor, fulfilling one while ignoring the other.  Amos decries the self-indulgence by the wealthy that will bring about the collapse of the nation.  The warning?  The rich will be the first to be led off in exile when the nation topples.  If they are the first, they will be enslaved even before their poor counterparts are led away.  It has been shown historically that Israel was strongest when the people were most committed to living The Law as God’s people.  The nation was weakened when the people became fascinated by the gods of the Gentiles and abandoned The Law.  The people became complacent, unaware of actual dangers and deficiencies.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells the story of a rich man, Dives, who with his family feasted sumptuously every day.  He was probably unaware of the physical hazards that came along with that kind of habitual diet.  Those were the days when full figured women and overweight men were signs of prosperity and material success.  It is clear that he was also blind to the moral deficiencies of his lifestyle.

Most often when people hear this parable they assume all kinds of evils in the man’s life.  Read that in, if you will, but there is nothing in the text that would indicate licentiousness.  The only evil Jesus cites in the parable is that the man ignored Lazarus, didn’t even see the beggar at his doorpost.

The scene shifts to the netherworld – Hades, Sheol, or hell in our parlance.  What a different perspective is put before us now.  Lazarus has died and now reclines on the bosom of Abraham, the God figure.  Dives has died also and, from his place in torment, can see the transformed Lazarus.  Abraham informs Dives that he is where he is as a consequence of the life of luxury he lived while Lazarus lived in want.  Even so, notice that Dives has maintained his attitude of superiority over Lazarus.  He asks Father Abraham to have Lazarus tend to his needs.  He wants Lazarus to do his bidding and bring him a sip of water to quench his thirst.  Not possible.  Dives doesn’t realize how deep and how wide is the chasm that separates the two worlds or how permanent is his present situation.

Then comes the only indication that Dives is aware of anyone else in his universe as he asks that Lazarus be sent to Dives brothers to warn them to change their lives lest they suffer Dives’ fate.  But Father Abraham reminds him that they have Moses and the prophets.  They should serve as warnings.  Let them listen to Moses and the prophets and take their words to heart.  Dives says that his brothers may be ignoring all the teachings up to this point in their lives, but they will listen if Lazarus goes to them from his place among the dead.

If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.  And so the parable ends.

Luke’s Gospel was written in light of Jesus’ resurrection.  In effect, Dives’ request of Father Abraham is granted when Jesus triumphs over death and rises to new life.  Someone from among the dead has returned to call people to live a new and different kind of life, a life of justice, love, and peace. As Paul says in the Second Reading.  Will Dives’ brothers listen?  Will they respond?  Will people in every age listen and change their lives?  Will we?

Sunday after Sunday, we come together to listen to Moses and the prophets and to the Gospel in our Liturgy of the Word.  The readings confront us and might unsettle us.  Certainly, they are meant to warn us in a positive way.  Our starving spirits are nourished at the Table of the Word.  As uncomfortable as we might be made by what we hear, we are meant to take the Word to heart and be transformed by it as we are shown time after time that we are called to love God with our entire beings and, our neighbor as ourselves.  There must be more than a notional response.  If Dives had been asked about Amos, or Moses, or any of the prophets, he probably would have said that he accepted the teachings.  He might even have memorized some favorite texts.  But the teachings did not change his heart.  He could love God with all sincerity all the while ignoring the beggar at his doorpost.  We listen to Jesus who has come back from the grave.  He commands us to love God and to love one another as I have loved you.  That love must be practical or it isn’t love at all.

A fairly well known Catholic writer announced that she is giving up being a Christian.  Her reasons are what we would call the sins of the Church, the way the Church is perceived in these times.  Judgmental.  Condemning.  Divisive.  Hierarchical and clerical.  Sexist.  Her words.  It is true that what the woman says is simplistic and un-nuanced.  It is also apparent that she is not turning her back on Christ, but on the Church as she hears what the Church’s message is today.

Pope Francis is challenging the Church to be a poor church serving the needs of the poor.  The ordained should be serving in the midst of the people.  The Church as the Body of Christ should challenge the people of God to work toward justice for the poor and seek a more equitable distribution of the world’s goods.  He has said in effect that the chasm that separates the wealthy nations from the developing nations must be narrowed.  Differences that separate ought not be the primary theme of ecclesial declarations.  Rather, what unites us in God ought to be the proclamation.  When the strangers, rich or poor, regardless of race or creed, male or female, regardless of sexual orientation, when the strangers come among us, the first thing they should experience is God’s love that embraces all, that wills the salvation of all.

So, once again we will go from the Table of the Word to the Table of the Eucharist.  It is a love feast that unites.  Together we will give thanks to God as we renew Jesus’ dying and rising in the Bread that is broken and the Cup that is poured out.  Once again we will take Jesus’ promise to heart that whenever we do this, Christ is present in our midst.  We are transformed just as are the bread and wine.  And, believing the One who has come back to us from among the dead, we are sent to live that reality that is Christ until he comes in glory.

Sincerely,

Didymus

 

 

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