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SEPTEMBER 29, 2013: TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

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

When the historical Jesus demanded repentance of his followers, he wasn't defining the term in the same way Sister Mary Mark did in my second grade first confession classes. As we old-time Catholics learned, in order for our sins to be confessionally forgiven, we had to be sorry for them, make a firm purpose of amendment and repent that we ever committed them. We not only had to confess our sins, we also had to make up our mind not to commit them again. Of course, it didn't take us long to realize that no matter how repentant we were, we usually went back to committing the same sins. A misunderstanding of repentance could still haunt many of us today who learned our faith as children.

Biblical repentance usually doesn't concern itself with our actions; it's more interested in the frame of mind which creates and supports our actions. Most of us remember the old axiom, "Give a person a fish and you feed him or her for a day; teach a person to fish and you feed him or her for a lifetime." Based on today's three readings, we could, "Teach a person to go to confession and take away her or his sins for a day; or teach a person to have a new value system, and take away her or his sins for a lifetime."

Following in the footsteps of the classic biblical prophets, like Amos, Jesus of Nazareth was in the business of changing mentalities. Like all prophets, he had to deal with individuals who looked at people and things from a different angle than God looked at them, especially when it came to dealing with the poor.

I frequently recall the villainous Calvera's reflection on the poor in the classic movie The Magnificent Seven: "If God didn't want them to be sheared, he wouldn't have made them sheep." Thankfully the seven men defending those poor Mexican compesinos didn't regard them as sheep.

The rich man in Jesus' story and the wealthy in Amos' audience might not couch their attitude toward the poor in Calvera's exact words, but they certainly share his basic orientation.

Jesus' rich man doesn't necessarily demonstrate any animosity toward Lazarus the beggar; he simply doesn't notice him. Dogs give him more attention. Neither do Amos' "complacent in Zion and the overconfident on the mount of Samaria" seem to "have it in" for the unfortunates in either Judah or Israel. They're just focused on people and things that can maintain their lavish lifestyles. They don't even notice the "collapse" of the country around them. Both Jesus and Amos simply have a different view of reality than people "dressed in purple garments" and those "lying on beds of ivory."

Unless individuals repent and change their value systems, their sins will always be the same.

The Pauline disciple responsible for I Timothy precisely describes the characteristics of a people-and-God-oriented mentality. They "pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness." Their life's goal is not to acquire wealth and prestige, but to "compete well for the faith," to build and maintain proper relations with God and those around them.

Did you notice Amos' complaint about the wealthy peoples' habit of eating "calves from the stall?" The meat they consume didn't come from pasture-grazing cattle; they ate the cuts with the special "marbling" which could only come from cattle which had been fed grain - the grain the poor would have eagerly eaten had it been made available to them instead of the cattle.

Have you checked lately on the source of most of our steaks? Maybe we even need a new mentality about some of the food we eat.