Vol.6 No.3 DoM Gospel Reflection
26th Sunday Ordinary Time—September 25, 2016
This Sunday, the 26th Sunday in Ordinary time, continues the theme we have been hearing in Luke’s gospel which calls for mercy, compassion, care and justice toward the poor, the outcast, the sinner, and the afflicted. We are heeded in all the readings this Sunday. The first reading from the Prophet Amos gives a powerful warning:
“Woe to the complacent in Zion! Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches, they eat lambs taken from the flock, and calves from the stall!”
Psalm 146 tells us that those who keep faith forever, secure justice for the oppressed, and give food to the hungry will be blessed. And the second reading by St. Paul exhorts us to pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness, virtues necessary to perform works of mercy.
Then we come to the Gospel which we just read. Poor, sick Lazarus dies, gets carried away by angels, and receives a heavenly reward,
while the wealthy man dies, loses his soul and finds himself in torment in the netherworld. Why is it that in the gospels, the rich are always condemned and the poor are always rewarded? Are riches really that bad and is being poor really that rewarding? Must we really give up everything in order to get to heaven?
We could probably make a modern day comparison and say that the rich man is like a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett type who are excessively wealthy. In that light we can appreciate how great the contrast is between the two and how insensitive the rich man is. The problem with the rich man has nothing to do with his riches in themselves. The loss of a few scraps of food would have made no difference to him. He loses his soul because he has become insensitive and complacent. The rich man has no mercy. His riches have become a distraction and his obsession with earthly pleasures make him hardened and self absorbed. The rich man is aware that Lazarus is at his gate but he ignores him. We know this because he calls him by name from the netherworld when he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to cool his tongue with water. Even after death we see no sign of sorrow or remorse, only concern to protect his wealthy brothers. Did the rich man choose to ignore Lazarus or was it a gradual indifference that developed over time? A slow slip into an isolated life of leisure.
This lesson on social justice for the poor is a frequent one that Jesus preached to the Pharisees. It is the lesson of the Beatitudes. It’s the message the church continues to give us today. When there is such an extraordinary discrepancy in the accumulation of wealth, then mercy and sharing with those less fortunate are the natural and moral responses God expects from us.
During the last 125 years we have had at least a dozen encyclicals and documents on social justice beginning with Pope Leo XIII in 1891 who wrote in his encyclical Rerum Novarum that once the demands of necessity and propriety are met, everything else we own belongs to the poor. Pope Francis is especially known today for his concern for the poor.
Social justice according to the church is intended to help guard against economic injustice in our society and to protect the dignity of our fellow man as a brother or sister in Christ. According to the Catechism of the Church, social justice means showing respect for the human person and the rights which flow from human dignity. Marxism, which the church condemns, is a system that coerces through violence and ignores the rights and dignity of the people. The church affirms the right to private property.
We live in a capitalistic society which rewards those who work hard. We act responsibly when we save for the future, retirement
or emergencies. We don’t want to become burdens on society ourselves. And we, as a nation, are extremely generous. Charitable donations hit a record for the second year in a row, an estimated $373.25 billion, according to a June 2016 report by Giving USA.
But writing a check to a charity, while very necessary, lacks the face to face response of an individual helping hand to someone who needs to know that his value is not measured by his bank account.
This gospel is meant to shake us up, to make us look around to see who is lying near our gate, so that we can personally feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and perform all those works of mercy that will build up a much greater treasure for us in heaven. God meant for us to have interdependence with each other in society. We need the poor as much as they need us.
So what can we do? We can tithe, donate to organizations like Catholic charities who work with the poor. Last week we heard of several local volunteer initiatives that are working very well. We can become more observant in our community and look for opportunities to make a difference.
Have you taken the time to really notice the people you come across every day who might need a helping hand? How could you help lift their burden? Money? A meal? Clothing? Just a kind word? Have you become obsessed with material things that distract you, like cell phones? Do the things of this world take time away from your prayer life? Do you give thanks to God every day for the blessings you have?
We can all follow these words from 1 Timothy 6:17-19:
“Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life.”