HOMILY FOR THE TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C (SEPT. 25)
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
Jesus is getting even closer to Jerusalem and his indictment of the people who have too much, the rich, gets even stronger. This indictment is not a new one for the Jewish people. The prophet Amos preached the same thing years before, as we see in the First Reading. In this reading, God is speaking through Amos. He is directing his prophecy to two Jewish groups, the people of Zion or Jerusalem, the Southern kingdom and the Jews in the north represented by their place of worship Mount Samaria. The Jews had split into two groups by Amos’s time. Both of the groups were very complacent, even though the signs were all around them that they would be conquered. They strongly felt that they were God’s people and God would never, ever, let this happen to them.
But Amos sees things differently. He shows them a mirror of themselves in which their complacency has led them to ignore the very people that God cares most about – the poor. By “poor”, by the way, is meant anyone who is treated unjustly in society. He shows them in this ‘mirror’ as lying on beds of ivory, lounging on couches, eating their fill, singing idle songs all day, drinking lots of wine, and grooming themselves with expensive products. Then Amos says that they are not “grieved by the ruin of Joseph!” This was an expression that was similar to one we might use when we say Nero fiddled while Rome burned, meaning that they were oblivious to the things falling apart around them, the poor, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, who were crying out for help.
God is angry with them because God is a just God. The reading doesn’t say that God punished them, but God is not going to help them either. God lets history take its course and allows the conqueror to do what conquers do. God is just forecasting what will happen.
Luke’s Gospel today gives basically the same message in terms of a parable that Jesus narrates. Luke doesn’t mince words and he tells us right from the start that Jesus told this parable to the Pharisees who loved money. We get the point immediately.
The rich man in the parable behaved in much the same way as the Hebrews before the captivity. He doesn’t pay any attention to the suffering around him but only makes sure he is living it up as much as possible in the moment. He too wears expensive, fine clothing and spends the days in lavish eating and drinking. He, too, ignores the pathetic man, Lazarus, outside his home who is starving and sick and destitute.
Upon their sudden deaths, however, they were apparently judged by God, and Lazarus was taken up to heaven along with the great men of Hebrew history, especially the father of all Jews, Abraham. The rich man, on the other hand, was in Hades suffering the torment of flames and heat.
The rich man apparently was able to see what the other side was like in heaven while he was suffering and he saw Abraham up in heaven, and he shouted to Abraham for help. He didn’t even ask Abraham to save him or bring him up to heaven, but just to give him a little drop of water to ease his thirst. Abraham is blunt in his reply: “You had a lot of good things while you were alive and revealed in them, while someone like Lazarus had only bad things happen to him. You ignored Lazarus when you could have helped him. So no way! You made your bed. Lie in it!”
Having perhaps learned his lesson, the rich man then asks Lazarus at least to go to his brothers and warn them about the consequences of rich living. But he is told by Abraham that there is no need for that. If they just read the Scriptures, the Law and the Prophets, they would know what to expect – just like in our first reading from Amos. But the rich man, who himself had ignored Scripture, said that if Lazarus came back to life and told them, that would be a miracle that they might believe. And Abraham’s final ironic, prophetic statement rings out as truth today: No, even if someone came back from the dead, they wouldn’t be convinced. Notice, here, the other Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead!
Remember: this was addressed to the Pharisees who undoubtedly felt that their wealth was a sign that God was blessing them as seems to be the message of Deuteronomy long before the Prophets. There is an abundance of proof in Deuteronomy that God blesses the righteous person with an abundance of prosperity and riches. The Pharisees felt they had Scripture on their side. Jesus obviously feels that they are misreading Scriptures and cherry-picking verses to give validity to their way of life. The story of the rich man and Lazarus is at base a story of how to interpret Scripture. This is where Jesus and the Pharisees are at odds.
I want also to point out that this is just a story Jesus told. It does not mean literally that there is a burning fire in hell as so many have taken it, or that we will sit around feasting all day in a heaven. These are metaphors of states of being and we don’t know what those states will be. Many theologians think hell will be the absence of God from one’s life. But we don’t know. We can only theorize and guess.
Jesus’s point overall is the misinterpretation of the Scripture looked at as a whole – which all the way through indicates that food should be shared with the one’s who have none in countless verses of Scripture from Leviticus to the Prophets.
My point today then is that we must not ever let someone prove something with a verse from Scripture, especially the New Testament, which does not fit with the overall message of justice and love. “God is love,” John constantly tells us. God also demands justice, That is the underlying theme of Scripture and should be the measuring rod for all our dealings, and anyone who says otherwise is just like the rich man in the parable today.
This week, let us try to remind ourselves of this “forest” of an idea instead of looking at the individual tree that might be rotten. Paul has it right when he sees that forest includes “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” And this is the Good News that will lead us to be like God and Christ: just and loving. God bless.