Amos 6:1a, 4-7; 1Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31
We live in a world which praises achievement and progress and will resist any failure. We live in a society, which says people deserve everything they are able to work for and acquire. The materially successful are often heard of boasting of their personal achievements. The emphasis is not on what people are but what they can do and on what they can acquire with what they do. The Gospel of today gives us a quick clue regarding the Kingdom Values which are different from all worldly values. It tells us that we as the children of God have the obligation and duty to look after our brothers and sisters and care for them. We all belong to one divine family. In the first reading Prophet Amos gives a warning to the people of Israel and reminds them that they cannot afford to remain in luxury ignoring those suffering around them. He warns against those who feel secure, who are at ease and do not grieve over the ruin of others. In the second reading Paul advices Timothy to be steadfast in his faith and always alert like an athlete who prepared for his final race to win the crown of victory. At the same time it reminds us that all Christians are men of God and in Baptism we have become the children of God.
Today’s First Reading taken from the Book of Amos denounces the luxurious living of the leaders of Judah and foretells the retribution that is awaiting them. He preached at the time of prosperity of the people of Israel. In this reading we have the last of three woes that the Lord God promised to inflict upon Judah and Israel because of their evil deeds. These nations had rulers who were idle, insensitive to the need of the poor and lived in luxury. They failed to recognize their connectedness with others and their responsibility. Accordingly, God said that they would be taken into exile. History tells us that the rulers slept on extravagant beds that were inlaid with ivory panels. They ate the most costly food, including calves that had been raised on milk alone, thus making the meat very tender. During meals, they listened to idle songs to the sound of the harp. In this environment of extravagance and luxury that prevailed. They even anointed themselves with the finest oils. But they were indifferent and insensitive to the needs of others. Because of such unacceptable behavior of theirs, the rulers were going to be captured and taken into exile. Their days of celebrating in a total luxurious way will be coming to an end.
The Second Reading of today taken from the First Letter of Paul to Timothy Paul begins by calling Timothy a “man of God.” The title man of God was generally applied to the great figures in the Old Testament such as Moses and to the prophets. The application of this title most likely meant that Timothy was greatly dedicated to the service of God and a person who pursues the virtues befitting a leader of God’s people. When Paul tells his beloved disciple Timothy to fight the good fight of the faith, he was stating two things. First of all, Paul compared the Christian faith to a race. A race involves good competition between different chosen persons. They always compete in order to win. They have to exercise self-control in all things. They do this race in order to receive a perishable wreath. He asks his disciple to find a wreath which is imperishable. Speaking about himself Paul says that he has fought the good fight, he has finished the race, and he has kept the faith. Secondly, Paul was reminding Timothy that at his baptism, he had made a profession of faith before many witnesses. Before God, the Church and the faithful, Timothy had an obligation to persevere in his faith to the end of the race. Timothy is called upon to persevere to the end and secondly, to preserve the truths of the faith that have been entrusted to us at our baptism.
The parable in the Gospel of today, generally termed as the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, was directed towards the Pharisees. This parable contains the all-important parabolic dynamic of reversal. It begins with the state of the rich person and the poor man and at the end the reversal of roles. The rich man in the story is nameless but the poor beggar is given the name, Lazarus as if to reverse the world’s opinion. This nameless rich man had more of this world’s wealth than he could ever use. The description of both rich man and poor man are interesting. The rich man is not portrayed as evil o villain and the poor man is not described as particularly virtuous and heroic. The story does not tell us how he got the wealth, perhaps in a proper way through his hard work or he inherited it from his ancestors. He dressed as a rich man would and had splendid royal living and there was really nothing much wrong with him. All he did was to enjoy his wealth and his good food, his big house, his fashionable and expensive clothes. He did not seem to do any harm to anyone, even the poor man at his gate. He did not drive him away or use abusive language towards him. The rich man was, in fact, quite charitable. The poor man was welcome to any of the food that fell from the table. Perhaps he was very religious person too, observing his Sabbath and may also have been a good family man. He may have been seen as a very pillar of his community. Yet, as long as that poor man lay uncared for at his feet, visible to him, the rich man was totally condemned, a sin of omission. It looks as if he did not know what justice means, did not know what love means, did not know what a truly human society means, did not know what religion means.
In the Gospel Jesus communicates to us that the rich man lived like a king and was totally insensitive to the needs of Lazarus. When he died, he could not take his luxury with him in the afterlife. None of his luxury could defend him against the judgment that awaited him. In fact, his luxury condemned him. When Jesus related this story, His intent was to spiritually awaken the Pharisees who were fond of money. As Luke tells us, they “heard all this, and they ridiculed Him.” The Pharisees had elevated themselves to the extent that no one, not even Jesus, could correct them for their own salvation. They were beyond reproach. Returning to the rich man and Lazarus, in the days of Jesus, it was understood that Jewish landowners were Yahweh’s tenants. That means that the landowner owed God some returns for the land he cultivated as his tenant. Hence they were expected to share the land with them in the form of assistance. Based on this custom, the rich man was obligated to take care of Lazarus, ensuring that his basic needs were met.
The reason as to why dogs were hanging around the table is because when the guests were invited to a feast, they would use bread to wipe their plates or their hands and then toss it under the table. Naturally, this would draw the dogs that would clean up the floor by eating what had been dropped from the table. This is the food that Lazarus longed to have so he could survive. The Gospel of Luke tells us that the poor man was not very healthy. He had sores that the dogs would come and lick. Obviously the poor man could not afford medication and the rich man refused to acknowledge his presence and his needs. The story goes further to tell us that both the rich man and the poor man died. The poor man was taken to Heaven by angels and the rich man was sent to Hades where he was tormented. What followed was the rich man’s request to Abraham that Lazarus be sent to him so he could dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue, because he was in agony from the flames. Abraham responds him with the message of the reversal of fortunes. This message reminds us of the last judgment where Jesus rewards those who fed the hungry and so on. Jesus identifies himself with those suffering.
Central to the story is the table laden with food. This is both the symbol of the Kingdom and also points to our Eucharistic table, which we dare to approach every day and every Sunday. The rich man made no move whatever to share what he had at the table. He could have done so at either of two levels. First, he could have seen to it that the poor man had enough to eat and he might even have gone further and looked after his physical welfare. This is at the level of “charity”, which most of us feel good about doing. In the second level, neither of the men is seen as rich or poor. They sit down together at the same table and they give and receive and share on a footing of equal dignity the meal and the food. It is quite irrelevant whether one of them is more intelligent, more active, more enterprising and healthier. What is important is that each cares deeply for the other and sees that the needs of each are taken care of with the resources available. The rich man made the excuse that he did not realize what was going on. His brothers did not realize this either. Let them be warned, he pleaded with Abraham. Mind you, even in the place of suffering the rich man could still only think of his own family and not of all the others to whom he was responsible. Abraham responds saying that it would be no use warning them. They would not listen even if someone rose from the dead. Ironic words indeed. Jesus here speaks of his own resurrection and how many really are going to believe in him and his resurrection.
There is a subtle warning that Jesus gives us through the gospel reading. He calls us today to be at the service of the poor and needy for they too are the children of God. He tells us that the chasm between the rich and the poor after they have died is far greater than it as when they were alive. When he as alive the rich man had every opportunity to share his wealth and care for the poor but he did not. The teachings of the law and prophets were available but he ignored them. Today we have the Words of Jesus and the teachings of the Church that are continuously placed on to us. As the rich man had plenty of opportunities to hear the truth, today, God’s creations, within and without the Church, have all the necessary opportunities to hear the truth. Sending Lazarus back to earth in spirit form is not going to save anyone. Therefore during the week, let us commit some time to review how we can improve our knowledge of the Catholic faith so when we speak on behalf of the Church, we do so with sound doctrines. We are presented with many tools and we are called upon to make a response. All of these are excellent tools that will richly increase our knowledge of God. We ask the grace that the light that Christ gives us may remove our blindness and make us one with him.
“There was once a wise woman traveling in the mountains who found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and she opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked if she might give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime. However he could not sleep a minute thinking someone would steal it and he was in constant fear all day long. So a few days later he came back to return the stone to the woman who had given it to him. ‘I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I’m giving it back in the hope that you can give me something much more precious. I want you to give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.’ “The more you share… The more you grow…”
Fr. Eugene Lobo S.J. Rome