Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 25, 2016 – Year C
Readings: Am 6:1A, 4-7 / Psalm 146 / 1 Tm 6:11-16 / Lk 16:19-31
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
At first glance, our Gospel today seems pretty straightforward. The question is: Why did the rich man go to Hell? The obvious answer is: Because he did not feed the poor.
We have to feed the poor, and we all know that. I’m sure that’s not news to any of you. In fact, Jesus spells it out in Matthew’s Gospel. He, in effect, tells us what’s going to be on the final exam, and he gives us the answers. He says, “For I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. A stranger, and you welcomed me. Naked, and you clothed me. Ill, and you cared for me. In prison, and you visited me.” And Jesus goes on to say, “If you do this for the least among you, then you’re really doing it for Me.” That’s pretty straightforward.
But the rich man’s failure to help Lazarus was really a symptom. It’s not the root cause of the problem. I’ll make this comparison. Suppose a loved one broke their leg. You carry them to the Emergency Room. The doctors there could give them drugs that would eliminate the pain, but that’s not why you brought them there. You brought them there to have the bone set and a cast put on, so that healing could take place. I think the first reading in this set of readings is key to understanding what the rich man’s real problem was.
You need to have a little bit of the back story. The Bible is full of history, even though the Bible is not a history book. So I’ll try to condense, and just give you the “Cliff Notes” of the background for this selection from the prophet Amos.
There was a man named Jacob, and his name was later changed to Israel. He had twelve sons. From these twelve sons came the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
Now we fast forward a little bit, and this guy named Moses – I’m sure you’ve heard of him – leads these Twelve Tribes out of captivity in Egypt, and eventually they come to the Promised Land.
Fast forward again, eventually these Twelve Tribes under King David become one great nation. However, that didn’t last too long. After the death of David’s son, King Solomon, the kingdom was split. The ten tribes in the northern part were known as Israel, and the remaining 2 tribes in the southern part were known as Judah. It’s important to understand that Jerusalem, the location of the temple and the seat of the power of God, was in Judah, on a hill called Mt. Zion. So with that in mind, let’s look at the first reading again.
He says, “Woe to the complacent in Zion.” And when he says “Zion”, he’s talking to Judah. He’s talking to the powers that be in Judah. And he goes on to say, “Lying on beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches, (blah blah blah)… yet they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph. And when the prophet uses the word “Joseph,” he is talking about the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians. Those ten tribes were carried off into exile and were never seen again. For all intents and purposes, they ceased to exist. The problem was the powers that be in Southern Kingdom of Judah sat back and watched it happen. Over the years, for many reasons, they no longer saw their brothers in the north as brothers. They saw them as “them” – good riddance. And that was the problem with the rich man. The rich man failed to see Lazarus as his brother. These things that we’re supposed to do – feed the poor, visit the sick, visit the prisoner, welcome the stranger – these are not just check-boxes. Those should come from who we are as Christians.
At the first Mass, when I closed my iPad, I told the people that my wife always gets a little nervous when I go off-script. But my script ends here, and I just want to let you know it’s Deacon Ray’s fault. When I was ordained, Deacon Ray gave me this awesome little thumb drive full of “homily helps.” It’s a wonderful tool. And people who know me know that, despite my best intentions, things kind of tend to push to the deadline. Many, many, many times I’ve been finishing my homily downstairs in my office before the 8:00 Mass, but I’ve been doing better lately. In fact, by this Wednesday, I had the whole thing planned out in my head. I had not formed my notes yet, but I knew exactly what I was going to say. Then I used Deacon Ray’s thumb drive. I pulled up my favorite resource on there – Father Tony. I was looking for just a little more insight and I have to confess that I was hoping I’d find a good joke or a good story to fit in here.
But I found two sentences in his Reflections that were basically what I just told you. And that stuck with me and it kept going through my head. I thought, “Wow, that’s awesome. It’s perfectly clear.” But it didn’t fit with where I’d planned to go. So now I get to the second reason why this is Deacon Ray’s fault. Friday night, sitting up there in that tent, I became convinced that my intended homily was not where I was supposed to go, and that I was supposed to go in a different direction.
By my standards, Friday night is still early, so I started mulling this over and over in my head. The more I thought about it, the more unclear it was to me what I was going to say. And the final thing was something that Fr. Dave said. He shared a quote from Pope Francis. I remember when Pope Francis said this and the Catholic News Agency covered it. He said those persecuting Christians throughout the world – those killing Christians – They do not see Catholics. They do not see Protestants. They do not see Orthodox. All they see is Christian. They don’t see brothers and sisters. And as far as they’re concerned, good riddance. Good riddance. They wouldn’t care if we all ceased to exist. And the more I thought about that, the more I had to admit to myself – and I’m sure most of you have to admit – that at times we fall into the same trap. We see it all over the world today. I call it the “Us and Them Effect.” We don’t see members of the opposite political party as brothers and sisters with a different viewpoint. We see them as “Them.” We don’t see them as someone we should be talking to and trying to meet common ground to make the world a better place. We fall into the same trap.
I was lying awake last night and all this stuff was going through my head. These divisions and groups that we come up with in and of themselves are not bad. They’re useful, but they’re only useful to the extent that they help us understand our brothers. The list that Matthew gives us is not a checklist. It should come from who we are as Christians. Who we are as followers of Christ. It should just happen.
I’ll leave you with this thought. When God looks down on us, He looks down on His creation. God does not see Republicans and Democrats. He does not see Catholics and Protestants. He does not see Muslims. He does not see Buddhists or Hindus. He does not see Black, White, Asian, Hispanic. What He sees are His children, and He loves them, because that’s what God is. He is Love. As I reflect on that, I come to the conclusion that the path we choose – how we see our brothers and sisters – is the difference in where that path is going to lead: whether it’s going to lead to the place where Lazarus is, or whether it’s going to lead to where the rich man is.