Amos 6:1, 4-7
1 Timothy 6:11-16
Luke 16: 19-31
Back in January I had one of those God moments. You know the kind -- when the Gospel comes to life before your very eyes.
I am reminded of it with today’s Gospel.
Our parish community was holding a funeral for a longtime homeless guy who died on the streets. (CLICK here for an article on the homeless funeral)
As I was readying the Church, a big, tall homeless man came to the side door near the piano at Our Lady of Perpetual Help and knocked. I opened it up and welcomed him. He asked if he could hang out for the hour of so until the funeral began. I told him, “Of course.”
As we talked, he shared with me the despair of living on the streets. It was a cold, raw January day in Everett. The temperature was about 40 and a frigid rain was falling.
The man told me his name was Ben and he’d been on the streets for years. Many times, he says he feels ignored, forgotten, and alone.
As we sat in the Church, he confided in me that he was brought up Catholic -- living on the reservation as a kid. He said he loved our beautiful Church, and actually choked-back tears as he shared how thankful he was just to rest his feet and warm his bones.
As he talked about his reality, I reminded him of God’s reality. This human experience can be
He said he liked that thought.
I thought of this Gospel passage as I shared it.
Former Pope Benedict said something profound about what’s expected of the People of God while we wait for that heavenly banquet.
He said this,
“In recent years it has been encouraging to witness the positive signs of a worldwide growth in solidarity towards the poor. But to turn this solidarity into effective action calls for fresh thinking that will improve life conditions in many important areas, such as food production, clean water, job creation, education, support to families, especially migrants, and basic healthcare.
Where human lives are concerned, time is always short, yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed 'too big to fail.'
Surely the integral human development of the world's peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world's attention, that is truly 'too big to fail.'”
The story of the rich man and poor Lazarus is only found in Luke’s Gospel, a Gospel that shows an overriding concern for the poor and marginalized, and is lazer-focused on social justice.
The story is an echo of Jesus’ Beatitudes, “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.”
The story also echoes Mary’s Magnificat: ”the hungry he has filled with goods things; the rich he has sent away empty.”
Jesus’ story is directed right at the hearts of the wealthy Pharisees of His day, but is also a shot to the hearts of our wealthy society here today.
Like it or not, we are the rich man in this story.
We live in a land of abundance, with every creature comfort known to humankind. We are the envy of all the poor of the world. Yet all the while, people in our society live on the streets, mired in addiction, mental health crisis, and abject poverty.
In today’s Gospel story, the rich man’s lack of charity and responsibility to his fellow man condemns him to flames of the netherworld.
As one bible scholar puts it, the rich man’s greatest sin is one of omission (That “what I have failed to do” line we used to say in the Confiteor). This omission has fashioned a great chasm between the rich man and Lazarus.
The danger of wealth and power in Jesus’ eyes is that they blind us to the kingdom of God both in this life and the next.
Our ambivalence, our apathy are shameful in God’s eyes.
Remember, unless we’re part of the solution, we’re a part of the problem. We can’t just say, “poverty, homelessness, addiction … not my problem.”
The amazing irony in the story is how much the rich man needed Lazarus in order to be saved. “Had he paid attention to Lazarus begging for table scraps at the door of his house (and responded), the rich man would not be in the predicament he is now.”
God wants us to know “how much of a role we play in our (own) salvation.”
God asks us to humbly be open to His will in our lives, to feel the tugging at our own hearts when we see someone truly in need. I know it’s sometimes difficult to hear God or have His message break through all the noise in our society. But we can’t just say, “not my problem,” or, from our privileged perches, condemn the poor for being lazy or people who just need to get their acts together.
The CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Fr. Thomas Rosica put it this way:
”The rich, the powerful, and the (so-called) 'just' find it very difficult to be humbly open to God; they are full of confidence in their own treasures and securities. The only real security is the one based on friendship with God… to be a servant of human beings and of God after the example of Jesus of Nazareth.
Exalting oneself is a form of self-reliance as opposed to reliance on God. This makes clear why being rich, prosperous, satisfied almost naturally imply being arrogant, proud, godless
As human beings, we are radically weak and constantly try to cover up our weakness by finding security in power, wealth and status. This deception will ultimately be unmasked by God's act of judgment.”
Another bible scholar sees this very story in Luke’s Gospel as a key that unlocks the door to “salvation” from Jesus’ perspective.
“On one hand, it holds up a cold mirror to our social realities, challenging us to either ‘live against’ or ‘die with’ the inhumane disparities that divide our social landscape. Then it invites us—like the epilogue of (the Road to) Emmaus (story)—to reread the Bible, reread our (salvation) history, and reread our own social maps, and then dedicate our discipleship to justice and equity. This, for Luke, is the key to ‘salvation.’ And Christians who would rather daydream about the ‘hereafter’ will be in for a rude awakening about how the ‘here’ persists in that ‘after.’”
If the words of this Gospel message truly afflict the comfortable here in this Church and comfort the afflicted just outside our door, then it’s done the job Jesus intended.
So, as we lay our heads down on our pillows tonight and thank the Lord for the many blessings in our lives, let us also ask Him to guide our hearts as His disciples to see and respond to the poor man or poor woman sleeping at our door.