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Breath of the Spirit

Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.

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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.”


SEPTEMBER 25, 2016: TWENTY- SIXTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Amos 6:1a, 4-7
I Timothy 6:11-16
Luke 16:19-31

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.”

 

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