There is a thought among sincere Christians that if you are not thinking of God, or Jesus, or “holy” things like that, then you are not a spiritual person. If you are not singing a hymn or reading a religious book, you are separate from the “holy”. Spirituality does not deal with the impossible or unhuman. Conversely, because you are doing those things, reading, singing, even reciting words, that is not the qualifying ticket of holiness or spirituality.
Loving and serving the Lord, to which we are sent at our most recent liturgy is the beginning of doing things like washing dishes, changing diapers, watching a ball game, and even writing Reflections. We are sent to do something with grace assisting our hearts and minds. These very daily actions are leading us back to the Eucharistic Table for our next encounter with God’s Word and the very “fountain of Holiness.” We are sent to do those things and more and those very actions bring us back for more.
Last-week’s Liturgy of the Word’s First Reading was from the prophet Amos, as is today’s. He does not hold back from speaking what the Lord has given him to say. It is very good for us to remember that the prophets were selected, called out, impressed into this service of calling Israel back to its holy roots. Amos was a tree-trimming country boy whom God needed to recall Israel to its knees. They risk much to be faithful to God’s call.
Today Amos is saying quite challenging things to those who have forgotten their God’s loving care and are sitting around indulging rather than caring for God’s people.
They are “complacent”, “comfortable”, and they “eat” and “drink” to the full. There is no hint that there are others in need. They are at the head of the line; they will be the first to go into exile in a reversal of fortunes.
Amos is challenging these “couch potatoes” who are reclining in their ivory beds of entitlement. They have no regard for the cultural and religious decline of their country, to which Amos refers by calling it, “Joseph”. They make up their own words and melodies to their traditional music as a sign that they are above and outside their cultural community. The prophet keeps relaying the Word and invitation of God, but their fullness of body and soul resists their hearing and heeding.
The Gospel is taken from a larger section in which Jesus is being laughed at by the Pharisees. They are the lovers of money and power and Jesus has told them that what they cling to is an “abomination” to God. The “kingdom of God” is entered “violently”. They enjoy the ease and comfort of their self-absorption. The “violence” is the radical change of values and interests called for by the Gospel, or Good News. What we hear today amidst the scoffing of the Pharisees is a dramatic parable of reversals. This parable concludes this chapter and is a summary of Luke’s presenting Jesus’ teachings on the dangers of wealth and power.
The “rich man” of the parable has certain characteristics of the entitled. He excludes the poor and surrounds himself with walls of disinterest. He may have an abundance of money, but there is more to this parable than an indictment of money. There is a poor man, Lazarus who is more than financially poor. He is sick, dressed in sores and excluded. So the stage is set for the dramatic change designed to enrage the Pharisees.
To more fully appreciate this parable, it would help to read chapter six, beginning at verse twenty of Luke’s account of the “Beatitudes”. Jesus is telling His listeners that the “poor” are blest, but “woe” to the rich. Blest are the “hungry” and “woe” to the “full”. Blest are those who “weep”, but “woe” to those who are “scoffing” now. Blest are those who are “hated” or excluded now, but “woe” to those who are spoken well of now. This Gospel parable fleshes out these previous verses perfectly.
Our Gospel parable today is a picture of the separation or reversal announced by Jesus. Those who invest totally in their possessions and in the “now” will necessarily exclude, be consumed by their position, and refuse to consider others. The finery with which we dress ourselves might be more than clothing. Our locked doors might be more interior blockages to the needs or thoughts of others. The real nature of the wealth about which Jesus speaks is that which we rely on for our independent identities. To what we cling for our names, importances, and personal profile or image forms the picture of what Jesus calls “riches”. The more our hands are full, the more our eyes are on our image, the more our doors will be closed and conveniently enough, we fail to see the Lazaruses lying injured, hungry and waiting just outside our imprisoning doors.
The Gospel ends with a pity-party discussion between the rich man, now tasting the fires of abandonment with Abraham. The chasm created between the rich man and Lazarus is now pictured as the chasm between the rich man and Abraham who is embracing Lazarus. The rich man begs for water, for help for his brothers by sending Lazarus from the dead to save them. Remember, the Pharisees are listening to this parable and these last lines are real “stick-it-to-em” words. Jesus, Who will rise from the dead, ends the story with words from Abraham, those who would not listen to, and live the traditions of the whole Law, would certainly not even listen to a risen-from-the-dead person. There’s no arguing with the meaning of this parable. As someone once said,“The only things you can take with you into the next life are the things you’ve shared with the poor.”
“O Lord, remember the words you spoke to me, your servant, which made me live in hope and consoled me when I was downcast.” Ps. 119, 49-50
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