We begin the 26th Week in Ordinary Time with a specific challenge from our Theme for the Week: “Our action or inaction will determine our eternity.” As baptized disciples, we are called to follow the Way, who is a Person, Jesus the Lord. To follow him is to follow his way of love. Through today’s readings, we see that the Lord has a special place in his heart for the widow and the orphan, for the poor and the downtrodden – and therefore, so must we.
In the first reading, the prophet Amos describes the lifestyle of the wealthy: “Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches …, they drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the best oils.” Wealth in itself is not evil. However, we become evil when we use riches to satisfy our greed or to interfere with our love of God and neighbor. Amos is addressing the indifference and complacency of the rich. “Woe to the complacent in Zion!” It is a prophetic warning to challenge those who are comfortable. Amos exposes their inner disorder; in their sensual indulgence and luxury, the people are “not made ill by the collapse of Joseph.” They have no concern for the destruction that is to come to the nation. Their real sin is their complete lack of love for others.
The warning of the prophet Amos is continued in today’s Gospel, the challenging parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The parable reminds us not only of our social responsibility in this life, but also of its connection with what happens to us in the next life. The sin of the rich man is not that he was rich, but that he was completely indifferent to his fellow man. So dull was his conscience that it was not awakened even as every morning he stepped over Lazarus lying at his doorstep. It seems that after his death the rich man still did not know why he was in torment – although we learn that he does, after all, know the poor man’s name. We can imagine the rich man saying to himself, I never hurt anyone. I never did anything to Lazarus. It is obvious that he also never did anything for Lazarus either. The sin of the rich man is the sin of omission; he did not see what he should have seen, and he did not do what he should have done. “How can we not recognize Lazarus … in the multitude of human beings without bread, a roof or a place to stay? How can we fail to hear Jesus: ‘As you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me’ (Mt 25:45)?” (CCC 2463).
In St. Paul’s wise counsel to Timothy in the second reading, we are urged to see things from the perspective of eternal life, and to act accordingly. This will prevent us from falling into the moral blindness of the rich man. This is God’s world; he is the ruler over all things. He is “the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light.” We owe our life to God, “who gives life to all things.” While in this world, we are called to “keep the commandment” – the commandment of love! – “without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul’s mention of the Second Coming of Christ is a reminder to us that our real treasure is what will last beyond our earthly life.
Paul makes this even clearer in the verses that follow, where he tells Timothy how to advise the rich on the right use of their earthly possessions. Though these verses are not included in today’s reading, they fit the day’s message very well: “Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life” (1 Tm 6:17-19). If the rich man had followed this advice, he would be rejoicing with Lazarus in “the life that is true life”!
Because God is so generous with us, we are all rich – that is, we all have something to give and a responsibility to share with others. This applies not only to our money and possessions, but much more to our faith and our love. Even if we have no money, we have ourselves. Our very poverty is a gift to give others. What did Lazarus give the rich man? An opportunity to break free from his slavery to self-indulgence. Every person is God’s gift to us; we are his gift to one another. We can give others our time. We can listen. We can acknowledge their dignity, even through as simple an act as making eye contact and smiling. When we allow others into our hearts, then we know what to do for them. When we love, we find ways to relieve the suffering of others.
The Gospel gives us an image that lingers in our imagination: Lazarus resting in the bosom of Abraham, like John resting on the heart of Jesus at the Last Supper. This is an image of Heaven, of the blessed future for which we all long. Poverty is not an obstacle to paradise, but selfishness is. “Our action or inaction will determine our eternity.” We give of ourselves in this life, caring for those whom God places before us, confident that when we die, Jesus longs to embrace us and to unite us with the heart of the Father.
Do I have a special place in my heart for the poor, the widow, the orphan and the downtrodden? Am I aware of the sins of omission in my life? Do I believe that if I truly love, I will find ways to relieve the suffering of others?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 7. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.