SEPTEMBER 25, 2016: TWENTY- SIXTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
Thus says the LORD the God of hosts:
Woe to the complacent in Zion!
Lying upon beds of ivory,
stretched comfortably on their couches,
they eat lambs taken from the flock,
and calves from the stall!
Improvising to the music of the harp,
like David, they devise their own accompaniment.
They drink wine from bowls
and anoint themselves with the best oils;
yet they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph!
Therefore, now they shall be the first to go into exile,
and their wanton revelry shall be done away with.
But you, man of God, pursue righteousness,
devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.
Compete well for the faith.
Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called
when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses.
I charge you before God, who gives life to all things,
and before Christ Jesus,
who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate for the noble confession,
to keep the commandment without stain or reproach
until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ
that the blessed and only ruler
will make manifest at the proper time,
the King of kings and Lord of lords,
who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light,
and whom no human being has seen or can see.
To him be honor and eternal power. Amen.
Jesus said to the Pharisees:
“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen
and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps
that fell from the rich man's table.
Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
When the poor man died,
he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
The rich man also died and was buried,
and from the netherworld, where he was in torment,
he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off
and Lazarus at his side.
And he cried out, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me.
Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,
for I am suffering torment in these flames.'
‘My child, remember that you received
what was good during your lifetime
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go
from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’
He said, ‘Then I beg you, father,
send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers,
so that he may warn them,
lest they too come to this place of torment.'
But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets.
Let them listen to them.’
He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham,
but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”
Many of us, as children in a fit of anger, once turned to our parents and yelled, “I hate you!” I trust none of us have lost any sleep over such an encounter. We all realize it’s one thing to say those words at the age of three, and another thing to say them at the age of thirty. The words are the same, but there are implications to saying them as a child that we simply don’t understand until we get older. That’s why most parents also don’t lose any sleep over their child’s angry outburst.
Yet some implications of our actions and words are harder to appreciate than others. The gospel Jesus is notoriously concerned with pointing out some specific implications that some of us never seem to notice no matter how old we are.
He follows in the footsteps of the classic Hebrew prophets, like Amos, the first of the “book prophets.” (Prophets like Elijah and Elisha preceded Amos by a century. But there’s no “book” of Elijah or Elisha.) Active in Israel during the 8th century BCE, Amos points out that even the “good folk” who frequent the national shrine at Bethel don’t give a darn about the collapse of the country around them. Though they’d never admit it, their actions are a sign of their lack of empathy for all but themselves. Complacent in their plush lifestyle, they don’t even notice the disconnect between themselves and the vast number of poor living around them.
Among other things, Amos accuses them of practicing something many of us take for granted today: “eating calves from the stall.” These animals aren’t fattened by grazing in the field, but are fed grain the poor could eat, just so their meat would eventually be a better grade than that produced by grass-fed animals.
We could not have a better gospel pericope today. It dovetails perfectly with our Amos passage. Just as the faithful at Bethel don’t notice the implications of their lifestyle, so Luke’s rich man never seems to notice Lazarus “lying at his door.” He’s consumed with the quality of his clothes and the items on his banquet menus. Stray dogs pay more attention to Lazarus than the wealthy owner of the house.
Jesus, as a Pharisee who believes in an eternal life after this life, warns their roles will be reversed after death, when it’s too late to do anything to effect the after-life. According to his theology, such a belief can be based not just on his resurrection from the dead, but on a proper reading of the Hebrew Scriptures (Moses and the prophets). He’s convinced the way we live our lives right here and now has eternal implications.
No wonder the unknown author of I Timothy encourages us to “compete well for the faith.” Just as, on a natural level, we continue, with age, to better understand the effects of our words and actions, so our faith takes us beyond the present state of our knowledge and experiences, to surface the deeper implications of what we say and do; to find meaning in people, things, and situations which many around us never seem to notice. Faith really is a life-long “competition” with ourselves. We’re expected to see those people, things and situations with different eyes today than the eyes with which we saw them yesterday.
One of the greatest obstacles to our becoming other Christs is our complacency with the way things are, especially when others are being hurt by the way things are. I worry the risen Jesus might not give me a bye at the pearly gates just because “I didn’t notice.”