September 26: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Readings: Am 6:1,4-7; 1 Tim 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31
Last Sunday the readings focused on the wise use of material possessions and challenged us to make use of the skills we have to win friendship with God in order to secure our future –the key to eternal life. This Sunday, the readings focus on material possessions that can make us so blind and isolated that we do not even see the poor on our gates; that we simply bypass them or ignore them. The prophet Amos in the first reading warns the leaders of Israel that they will be the first to be deported into exile, because they dine like kings while the nation of Israel collapses economically. They have failed to see the direction their nation is heading. Amos lived in Judah in the South around the middle of the 8th century B.C., at a time when there was a great social gap between the rich and the poor. The wealthy had many possibilities of greater profits, and the poor could only grow poorer. Against this Old Testament background, Jesus tells another the parable in response to the criticism of the scribes and the Pharisee regarding welcoming sinners and eating with them.
The parable of the rich man (with no name in Luke) and Lazarus is a perfect response from Jesus to the Pharisees who categorized the poor as sinners. The rich man represents the leaders of Israel who have failed to listen to God’s invitation to salvation. With the story of the rich man dressed in royal purple and Lazarus "dressed in sores", the stage is set for a dramatic change in fortunes. Lazarus, who represents those who accept God’s invitation in Christ, was not only poor, but sick and handicapped. He was laid at the gates of the rich man's house daily to eat the scraps from his table. Dogs licked the sores of Lazarus as it were, feasting on him. The rich man dinned lavishly daily. He could have opened the gate and helped the Lazarus, but he did not. He was so blinded by his possessions that he did not even see Lazarus. Moreover, his possessions led him to isolate himself from the rest of the community around. In the parable, Jesus paints a dramatic scene of contrasts: riches and poverty, heaven and hell, compassion and indifference, inclusion and exclusion. There is also an abrupt and dramatic reversal of fortunes. We are told that the poor man died and carried by angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried! The contrast continues with the rich man being rejected and tormented hell, while Lazarus is accepted and happy in heaven. The rich man becomes a beggar with not even a drop of water, while Lazarus is rich in God's life. Just as there was a gap between the rich man and Lazarus on earth, now there is a great chasm between the two. The rich man was condemned not because of his possessions, but because, blinded by his possessions, he failed to notice Lazarus who was at his door daily longing for scraps from his table. What message do we take home this Sunday? 1) To appreciate more fully this parable, one needs to keep in mind the contrasts outlined by Jesus in the beatitudes (Lk 6) - the poor are blest, but woe to the rich; the hungry are blest, but woe to the full. 2) The parable challenges us to be more compassionate towards the poor, and to be more involved in our parish social ministry that give attention to the poor and less fortunate. 3) Jesus wants us to remind us that first of all there is hell and heaven; that our daily choices have consequences either leading us to heaven or to hell. 4) Lazarus has not gone away but still at our gates. To notice or to ignore Lazarus has eternal consequences beyond this life.
©2010 John S. Mbinda
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