TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Am 6:1, 4-7 1 Tim 6:11-16 Lk 16:19:” Responsibility to the Underprivileged
Awareness above Complacency; Tenderness over Hardness; Justice; Hospitality and Its Abuse.As a symbol of justice, we take for granted the blindfolded lady in long ﬂowing robes holding scales in one hand and a sword in the other. The blindfold allegedly prevents Lady Justice from looking at such conditions as whether a petitioner is old or young, rich or poor, black or white. The sword indicates the swiftness and decisiveness with which she can mete out the punishment with which she can back up her decisions. Her equally—balanced scales are reminders that justice is dispensed equally to all. Modern cynical wags interpret the symbol differently. They say that justice looks so stolid in her long—ﬂowing robes because she never moves. And they see it as good that both her hands are occupied, because then she can’t take bribes.
Amos, addressing the Jewish leaders, depicts the rich as Jesus did — self-satisﬁed, pampered, insensitive, —— and complacent (v. l). The debauched rich were letting the good times roll. They luxuriated in elaborate furniture inlaid with ivory (v. 4), ate choice foods, and dedicated their lives to wine, women, and song at their most decadent. With matchless sarcasm, Amos mocks their banquet music by comparing it to David’s — whose music praised God (v. 5). He prophesies that their inattention to the poor around them will bring about their doom.
In the Gospel, Jesus addresses the Pharisees, “who loved money” (v. 14). He tells the story of two men — Lazarus, the poor man, whose Hebrew name means “God is my help,” and Dives, from the Latin adjective meaning “rich”, one of the “beautiful people” who went “ﬁrst class” all the way, right out of the pages of Esquire. Dives’ outrageously expensive outer garments were made of wool dyed in a purple that came from shells on the beaches of Tyre, so cherished that the veil of the Temple was made from this purple. From time to time attempts were made to reserve it exclusively for the togas of the emperor. At a time when the poor and hard-working populace were lucky if they got the cheapest cut of meat once a week, Dives dined sumptuously (v. 19) every day.
At the gate to his palace — right off the sidewalks of any modern city, where he lies in his cardboard shelter against the winds — lay Lazarus the beggar, almost a permanent ﬁxture (v. 20). In abject poverty he longed to eat the scraps (v. 21) from Dives’ table. Lazarus wasn’t only poor, but helpless, so helpless that hungry dogs licked his sores, and he couldn’t chase them away!
Then death came. Lazarus was taken to heaven as a reward — not for poverty, but for his trust in God as his help. Dives went to a place of terrible torment (v. 23), where he was wracked with hunger and thirst. This was not because of molesting Lazarus in any way. He didn’t. In a sense, he did nothing wrong; but he did nothing about the rights of the poor. He was condemned not because luxury is evil, but because of apathy. Dives-types — his ﬁve brothers (v. 28) — continue to roam the earth, looking on the world’s misery but not feeling it, and seeing fellow human beings in pain without involvement.
With Lazarus in heaven and Dives in hell, the arrogant Dives doesn’t change! The tongue that had tasted the ﬁnest wines, now longing for a drop of water, demanded the saintly Lazarus — whose identity he knows exactly, even though he had never done anything for him in his days and nights of need — as his head waiter or errand—boy to do something to slake his thirst (v. 24)!
“As we live, so shall we die,” is frightening but true. A famous bullfighter, hoist on a bull’s horn, thought; “Now the lousy bull has ruined my whole afternoon.” A motorcycle rider, his leg severed, sobbed in the ambulance, “What am I gonna tell my girlfriend?” A sailor, bleeding to death on a California highway beside his wrecked car, mumbled before closing his eyes, “This would have to happen on my birthday.”
In the Gospel, Abraham’s answer to Dives’ pleas for special help was the equivalent of those saddest of words, “Too late! Too late!” Wondrous events — a voice from the grave, even Christ’s resurrection from the dead (v. 31) — won’t automatically save people. Like Lazarus we must have a faith that affects the way we live. The letter to Timothy advises the young bishop about his new role as leader of the community. It also reveals the kind of persons we ought to be. We are to have integrity, which means putting everything together for God and fellow human beings. To God, three virtues are especially due— piety, a quality of realizing that we are God’s children whose life is lived in His presence; an unswerving fidelity in the darkness as well as the light; and love, which is the spontaneous response of our hearts to God’s overwhelming love for us. Toward people, we owe the virtue of a gentle spirit — that overlooks wrongs done to oneself and challenges the injustice done to others, along with a temperament that is always ready to forgive.
Where do we actually stand? Will Christ ﬁnd us among the complacent rich? Hand-in-hand with wealth and power must go responsibility. If we have no sense of responsibility or concern for others, there follows the blindness and coldness of heart exempliﬁed in today’s readings and in the modern bumper-sticker, “Life Is Cheap; Toilet Paper Is Expensive.”
The truth is that all of us, even the poorest, are of great value, as the poet (Anonymous,
The Touch of the Master’s Hand) says of the auction of an old violin:
‘Twas battered and scarred and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin;
But he held it up with a smile.
“What am I bidden, good folks?” he cried
“Who’ll start the bidding for me?
A dollar — a dollar — now two, only two,
Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?
Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice,
Going for three” — but No!
From the room, far back, a gray-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then, wiping the dust from the old violin
He played a melody pure and sweet —
As sweet as an angel sings.
The music ceased, and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said, “What am I bid for the old violin?”
And he held it up with the bow.
“A thousand dollars — and who’ll make it two?
Two thousand — and who’ll make it three?
Three thousand once, three thousand twice —
And going, and going, and gone,” said he.
The people cheered, but some of them said,
“We do not quite understand —
What changed its worth?” The man replied:
“THE TOUCH OF THE MASTER’S HAND!”
And many a person with life out of tune
And battered and torn with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd,
Much like the old violin.
A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,
A game — and they travel on,
They’re going once, and going twice,
They’re going — and almost gone!
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand,
The worth of a Soul, and the change that’s wrought
By THE TOUCH OF THE MASTER’S HAND!
Unfortunately, our society hasn’t changed essentially from the time of Amos 750 years before Christ. We reward our entertainers with lavish bounty while resenting persons on welfare; we give golden parachutes to failed CEO’s and nothing to workers laid off as a result of their failure. Our society gives millions of dollars a year to corporate heads of clothing companies that pay ﬁfty cents an hour to poor women who make the clothing.
Today’s readings challenge all of us. We are not to adopt an attitude of resigned acceptance of the status quo that has us wait for “pie in the sky bye and bye”. All of us are to be at one with Lazarus who placed his hope in the Lord, sensitive to the needs of others as Amos, and the person of God whom Timothy would recognize. The question to be asked of us is not, “Are you rich or are you poor?”, as if one or the other would make us morally better, but, “Do you care, or are you complacent?” Are we persons of God, or have we created an abyss between ourselves and the Lazaruses of the world, putting ourselves among Dives‘ people still roaming the earth?