(Saint Bernardine’s Church, Regents Park: Saturday 6pm; Sunday 7.30am & 9am)
28/29 September 2013
(Readings: Amos 6:1, 4-7; Ps 145; 1 Tim 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31)
There is an interesting play on numbers in today’s gospel. We hear that the rich man who ends up in hell asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his five brothers to warn them so that they don’t end up in hell either. So the rich man and his five brothers makes six, and with Lazarus they would have been seven. In the scriptures, the number seven is a number of completeness or fullness. Creation occurred in seven days; we have seven sacraments; there are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The rich man and his five brothers, together with Lazarus, should have made a unit of seven “brothers.” And yet the precise point of this story is that they were not bound in unity. One of the seven was left at the gate to starve.
Interestingly, the rich man has no name. Tradition has given him the name Dives, but that’s just a latin word meaning “rich,” it’s no name at all. The point is that that man was his money. He lived a life of self-sufficiency: he didn’t have to worry about things; he didn’t need to think of God; and he didn’t need to think about the poor man lying at his gate. The story portrays the rich man as being even worse than his dogs: because even the dogs stopped and paid attention to the poor man, even showing what we might call “canine compassion” in licking his wounds.
The point of this story is to remind us that, in life, we are meant to be bound in solidarity with others. The way we treat others is not inconsequential – in fact, it has eternal meaning. In the story of the final reckoning that Jesus tells, people are judged on what they did, and on what they failed to do to others. The rich man of today’s Gospel did not mistreat the poor man: he didn’t kick him, or verbally assault him, or oppress him: he simply ignored him, and lived his life as if the poor man didn’t exist. According to the Gospel narrative, such an action has the same consequence as if he’d murdered him.
We often think of our sins as the things we commit – sins of commission – stealing, lying, slandering – but just as grievous are our sins of omission – the good that we fail to do. And this is something that today’s Gospel is trying to bring home to us.
Cardinal Francis of George of Chicago was thanking the benefactors of the seminary one day, and he reminded those generous people of their duty to the poor. “The poor need you to help get them out of poverty,” he said. But then he added, “And you need the poor to get you out of hell!” (1) In other words, we need to keep our eyes open for the “poor” around us, less we live our lives pretending they don’t exist, and end up with the fate of those who Jesus said failed to feed and clothe him in the poor.
When we speak of the “poor” the obvious example is those who face material disadvantage. No one of us can solve such a problem on our own, that’s why God has raised up in the Church groups like the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, who can practically reach out to those in need, and as a body help to address the structural issues that lead people into disadvantage. We can think of any number of charitable organizations doing similar good work. Prompted by the Word of God today we can ask ourselves if we are doing our share in supporting and contributing to this work, not just financially, but with our time when we can.
But we remember too that “poverty” comes in many guises. There are all sorts of “poor” people around us – and each of us, if we’re truthful, are poor in some way. Loneliness is a real poverty. Those who don’t enjoy the “riches” of good health that most of us do, also face a real poverty. Then there is the poverty of hopelessness, or meaninglessness.
The call of Christ to us is that we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, and that if we are “rich” in some way, we are to share those riches with those who have less. Who are the Lazaruses in our lives? Are they perhaps right in our very home, in our workplace, in our neighbourhood? Let’s pray that we don’t live like the rich man of the Gospel, pretending that the poor man is not even there.
I conclude with words from Blessed Mother Teresa: It is not how much we do but how much love we put in the action that matters to Almighty God, and that is love for God – that God keeps on loving the world through each one of us, through the world that has been entrusted to you. The work that you are doing … is sacred work. Never do it slapdash … it is Jesus there. Your hands are feeding the hungry Christ, your hands are clothing the naked Christ, your hands are giving home to the homeless Christ in some part of the work. So, do your work well, and do it with great love. Otherwise it is not worth doing. It is not worth doing it half-half. That is the means for you to become holy because Jesus our God is there.” (2)
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2. Living Faith: Daily Catholic Devotions, July, August, September 2013.