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Reflections for the XXVI Sunday

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the twenty-sixth Sunday in ordinary time. He says that the readings are a warning that the selfish and extravagant use of God’s blessings, like wealth, without sharing them with the poor and the needy is a serious sin deserving eternal punishment.

Am 6:1a, 4-7; 1Tm 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31

Homily starter anecdote: The parable that challenged Dr. Albert Schweitzer:   It is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus which made a man with three doctoral degrees (one in medicine, one in theology, one in philosophy), leave civilization with all its culture and amenities and depart for the jungles of darkest Africa to serve as a missionary doctor for 47 years. It was this parable which induced a man, who was recognized as one of the best soloists and concert organists in all Europe, to go to a place where there were no organs to play? It was this powerful parable which so intensely motivated a man that he gave up a teaching position as university professor in Vienna, Austria to go to help people who were so deprived that they were still living in the superstitions of the dark ages, for all practical purposes. At the age of 38, he became a full-fledged medical doctor with specialization in tropical medicine. At the age of 43, he left for Africa where he opened a hospital on the edge of the jungle in what was then called Equatorial Africa. He died there in 1965 at the age of 90. The man, of course, was Dr. Albert Schweitzer who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952.  The single parable that so radically altered his life, according to him, was our text for this morning, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the beggar. That parable convinced Schweitzer that the rich, Europe, should share its riches with the poor, Africa, and that he should start the process.

Scripture lessons summarized: Amos, in the first reading, issues a powerful warning to those who seek wealth at the expense of the poor and who spend their time and their money on themselves alone. He prophesies that those rich and self-indulgent people will be punished by God with exile because they don’t care for their poor and suffering brothers. The Responsorial Psalm praises Yahweh, who cares for the poor. In the second reading, Paul admonishes us to "pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness" – noble goals in an age of disillusionment – rather than riches. In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us a warning, pointing to the destiny of the rich man who neglected his duty to show mercy to poor Lazarus. The rich man was punished, not for having riches, but for neglecting the Scriptures and what they taught.

First reading, Amos 6:1, 4-7 explained: Amos’ message from the Lord God was couched in a series of oracles, words and woes, and visions. Today’s first reading (Amos 6:1a, 4-7), is taken from the third woe (6:1-14), concerning self-indulgence, an excellent companion text for today’s Gospel. The prophet Amos laments the self-indulgence and fraternal indifference of the wealthy both in Zion (Southern Kingdom) and Samaria (Northern Kingdom, to which the Lord God had sent Amos as His prophet), who are “living a life of luxury, heedless of the misfortunes of others, of the ‘ruin of Joseph,’” notes the Navarre Bible. Because of this, the people of the Northern Kingdom will be conquered by the Assyrians and will go into exile first. They did so in 721 BC.  The collapse of Joseph is not Judah’s collapse. But by designating the Northern Kingdom “Joseph,” the Lord God, through Amos, calls attention to the patriarchal traditions Israel shares with Judah. What kind of brother satisfies expensive tastes while his younger brother suffers? The Lord God tells them that the solidarity one expects of a brother cannot be found among Judah’s elite either; they, too, are people who prefer good food and drink to coming to the aid of other suffering members of the same family. Hence, the Lord God says that He will punish those rich and unsympathetic people of Judah with exile as well. The prophecy was fulfilled when the Southern Kingdom – Judah with Jerusalem as its capital- was razed to the ground in 587 BC by the army of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, and its elite rich were led to a humiliating and punishing exile in Babylon.

Second Reading, 1 Timothy 6:11-16 explained: Timothy held a position in the church at Ephesus like that of the modern Bishop. He was relatively young and of mixed Jewish and Gentile parentage. In the letter, the senior apostle Paul gives the young bishop advice and encouragement. After warning  Timothy (6: 10) that "the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the Faith and pierced themselves with many pains," he reminds Timothy, the ordained priest and consecrated Bishop, of the Faith he had confessed at his Baptism, of his obligation to “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith love, patience and gentleness”  and of his ongoing call to bear witness to Christ as a loyal teacher and practicer of that Faith.  The message for us is that the generous sharing of our talents and resources is the necessary response of our Christian commitment.

Gospel exegesis: The objectives: Jesus told this parable to condemn the Pharisees for their love of money and lack of mercy for the poor. He also used the parable to correct three Jewish misconceptions held and taught by the Sadducees: 1) Material prosperity in this life is God’s reward for moral uprightness, while poverty and illness are God’s punishment for sins. Hence, there is no need to help the poor and the sick for they have been cursed by God. 2) Since wealth is a sign of God’s blessing, the best way of thanking God is to enjoy it by leading a life of luxury and self-indulgence in dress, eating and drinking, of course, after giving God His portion as tithe. 3) The parable also addresses the false doctrine of the Sadducees denying the survival of the soul after death, and the consequent retribution our deeds and neglects in this life receive in the next. Jesus challenges these misconceptions through the parable and condemns the rich who ignore the poor they encounter.  The parable also offers an invitation to each one of us to be conscious of the sufferings of those around us and to share our blessings generously.

One-act-play: The parable is presented as a one act play with two scenes. The opening scene presents the luxurious life of the rich man in costly dress, enjoying five course meals every day, in contrast to the miserable life of the poor and sick beggar living in the street by the rich man’s front door, competing with stray dogs for the crumbs discarded from the rich man’s dining table. As the curtain goes up for the second scene, the situation is reversed. The beggar Lazarus is enjoying Heavenly bliss as a reward for his fidelity to God in his poverty and suffering, while the rich man is thrown down into the excruciating suffering of Hell as punishment for not doing his duty of showing mercy to the poor by sharing with the beggar at his door the mercies and blessings God has given him

Why should God punish the innocent? Naturally, we are tempted to ask the question, why was the rich man punished? He did not drive either the poor beggar or the stray dogs from in front of his door nor did he prevent either from sharing the discarded crumbs and leftovers from his table. The Fathers of the Church find three culpable omissions in the rich man in the parable. a) He neglected the poor beggar at his door by not helping him to treat his illness or giving him a small house to live in. b) He ignored the scrolls of Sacred Scriptures kept on his table reminding him of Yahweh’s commandment in the book of Leviticus (15: 7-11) “Don’t deny help to the poor. Be liberal in helping the widows and the homeless.” c) He led a life of luxury and self-indulgence totally ignoring the poor people around him, with Cain’s attitude: “Am I the guardian of my brother?” It is not wrong to be rich, but it is wrong not to share our blessings with our less fortunate brothers and sisters.

The lessons taught: This parable teaches important lessons: a) It reminds us that eventually all of us will experience God’s justice after our death (“particular judgment”), when we are asked to give an account of our lives. b) It points to the Law and the Prophets (the Sacred Scriptures), as ways to learn how to practice righteousness and sacrificial sharing. c) It looks ahead to our resurrection ("neither will they be convinced if someone rises from the dead"), and the reality that the people who heed nothing and die unrepentant will suffer for it. d) God permits injustices in this life, though not in the next. e) Perhaps the main lesson of this parable is that supreme self-love is total moral depravity and making self-gratification one's supreme goal in life does not merely lead to sin – it is sin.

Life messages: 1) We are all rich enough to share our blessings with others.  God has blessed each one of us with wealth or health or special talents or social power or political influence or a combination of many blessings. The parable invites us to share what we have been given with others in various ways, instead of using everything exclusively for selfish gains.

2) We need to remember that sharing is the criterion of Last Judgment: Matthew (25: 31ff), tells us that all six questions to be asked of each one of us by Jesus when He comes in glory as our judge are based on how we have shared our blessings from Him  (food, drink, home, mercy and compassion), with others. Here is the message given by Pope St. John Paul II in Yankee Stadium, New York during his first visit to the U.S., October 2, 1979. "The parable of the rich man and Lazarus must always be present in our memory; it must form our conscience. Christ demands openness to our brothers and sisters in need – openness from the rich, the affluent, the economically advanced; openness to the poor, the underdeveloped and the disadvantaged. Christ demands an openness that is more than benign attention, more than token actions or halfhearted efforts that leave the poor as destitute as before or even more so. ...We cannot stand idly by, enjoying our own riches and freedom, if, in any place, the Lazarus of the 20th century stands at our doors.”

3) We need to treat the unborn as our brother/sister, Lazarus. The Lazarus of the 21st century is also our preborn brother and our preborn sister. These babies are brutally executed in their mother’s wombs. Their cries for a chance to live are rejected 4400 times a day in our country. This Lazarus is the person torn apart and thrown away by abortion. The rich man was condemned for not treating Lazarus as his brother. We also will be condemned for our selfishness if we do not treat the preborn as our brother and sister. "Who am I to interfere with a woman's choice to abort?" I am a brother, a sister of that child in the womb! I am a human being who has enough decency to stand up and say "NO!" when I see another human being about to be killed. I am a person gifted with enough wisdom to realize that injustice to one human being is injustice to every human being, and that my own life is only as safe as the life of the preborn child. Finally, I am a follower of the One who said, "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me."

4) Our choices here determine the kind of eternity we will have. It has been put this way: "Where we go hereafter depends on what we go after, here." Where we will arrive depends on what road we travel. We get what we choose, what we live for. We are shaping our moral character to fit in one of two places. (Fr. Antony Kadavil)

26 September 2019, 15:27