As we enjoyed the first taste of fall this past week with those brisk, clear mornings, here’s a wake-up call: today, the 25th of September, is only three months away from Christmas. Can you imagine!?! Soon, we’ll be getting involved in our annual Adopt-a-Family and Christmas Food Baskets. One of the many aspects of our parish that I have found so inspirational and edifying over the 11 years that I have been here is your tremendously generous response to all of the charitable appeals we have throughout the year, especially the annual Catholic Charities and mission appeals, as well as the various appeals to assist our sister parish, St. Martin de Porres. As I’m sure you are aware, the need is even greater now, both here in our archdiocese and around world due to the pandemic and as I commend you on your generosity it’s also important to reflect why we do this. Today’s readings offer us the opportunity to do so.
Today’s Liturgy of the Word opens with Amos quoting God, crying out, “Woe to the complacent.” The last word is the key. The real tragedy Amos sees around him is complacency. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying life or going to a good party – Jesus was famous for enjoying them. The trouble was that for some people, partying had become their life, and they didn’t care at all about the misery that was all around them. As Amos lamented: “They are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph!” We all know about Joseph, the son of Jacob, who invited his family from their famine-plagued homeland to Egypt, where he could give them food from the grain bins that he had wisely filled to feed the people. Amos uses Joseph as a metaphor for all of Israel, as he speaks against the wealthy in Israel in the 8th century BC because they were “lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches…drinking wine from bowls” because a regular wine glass wasn’t big enough – all while so many of their fellow Israelites were living in dire poverty. The reason for Amos’ outcry was that he knew that God called for something different, something that would break the cycle of blindness and wanton consumption in the face of great need.
On the heels of Amos’ protest, we hear Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man in Jesus’ story had learned to look the other way so Lazarus remained invisible to him. Knowing that, Jesus decided to tell a ghost story to disturb our peace. He addressed it to the upright of the upright, the Pharisees, who, like the people of ancient Israel, focused more on taking care of themselves than their neighbor in need. After setting the scene by describing the gross inequality between Lazarus and the rich man, he went on to talk about a topic we all like to ignore: death. Everyone – even you and I – absolutely everyone is going to die. Our lives will come to an end and the time is going to come when we can’t change things, when there can be no more revisions to our life story.
Then, presenting a parable that would later inspire Charles Dickens to write A Christmas Carol, Jesus told a tale from places beyond the grave. There was Lazarus, luxuriating in the love that we all yearn for in death – in the bosom of Abraham is the image we’re given – while the once wealthy, now dead man had to raise his eyes to get even a glimpse of it. As if for the first time, the rich man almost saw Lazarus. But what he really saw was not Lazarus, but what Lazarus had. The rich man had allowed his humanity to become so impoverished that even after dying he remained blind, insensitive to the connections that bind everyone together. Unable to escape his paradigm of power relations, he begged for pity from Abraham, assuming that he was still influential enough to be sent a servant. He asked that Lazarus become his servant and bring him some water to quench his unquenchable thirst. And, when Abraham wouldn’t grant him his first request, his final gambit, “Send him to warn my brothers,” was nothing more than an extension of his sense of class and hereditary privilege. But, Abraham reminded him that Moses and the prophets were there for everyone to hear. No amount of fright from the realm of the dead, no threat, is capable of teaching one to love; the rich man had not learned that all-important lesson.
What is necessary is a change of heart as we realize who we are in the eyes of God. Following the example that Jesus gave us, we learn to speak lovingly of “you” and “we” instead of just “me.” Our concept of “ours” grows beyond the narrowness of clan and class to include those to whom the Creator refers as “mine” – and that includes everyone he has made. We are called, throughout the year and in so many ways, to respond differently than the rich man in today’s parable.
Today, we are called to remember that God has blessed us with many good gifts. They are not ours to hoard, however, but to share. When we overcome complacency and engage in the struggle of those around us, we are today’s manifestation of God’s love; we are, indeed, our Lord’s hands and feet. And, when that happens, at our death we will join Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham, engulfed in the everlasting joy of God’s loving embrace, extended to everyone who loves as God loves.