26 Sunday C - Lazarus - God Turns Tables

Note: Video message from Fr. William Grim, mm at the bottom

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Introduction:
What parable would make a man with three doctoral degrees (one in medicine, one in theology, one in philosophy) leave civilization with all of its culture and amenities and depart for the jungles of darkest Africa? What parable could induce a man, who was recognized as one of the best concert organists in all of Europe, go to a place where there were no organs to play. What parable would so intensely motivate a man that he would give up a teaching position in Vienna, Austria to go and deal with people who were so deprived that they were still living in the superstitions of the dark ages for all practical purposes. The man who I am talking about, of course, is Dr. Albert Schweitzer who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. And the single parable that so radically altered his life, according to him, was our text for this morning. It was the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

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The rich man of today's story was "a winner in this life," says James Tahaney, "and a loser in the next."

Dogs and cats in the United States eat more nutritious food than do the homeless in refugee camps in the third world. That chilling information is reported by The New York Times.

What a masterful storyteller and wordsmith the Master is. It boggles the mind to reflect how much He was able to squeeze into twelve verses. He is a teacher par excellence.
(James Gilhooley)
Michel de Verteuil
General Textual comments


This Sunday’s passage is entirely taken up with one parable. It is in three sections – each one is a story in itself, so you can remain with any one of them:
- verses 19 to 22: an introductory scene ending with the death of both Lazarus and the rich man;
- verses 23 to 26: a first dialogue between the rich man and Abraham;
- verses 27 to 31: a second dialogue between them.

All but one of the Sunday gospel passages for the next few weeks include a parable. It is therefore good to remember the special kind of teaching that a parable is, a kind of teaching that is not common in our culture.

We are accustomed to moralizing stories, in which the point of the story is to exhort us to imitate the hero or heroine. A parable is not meant to work like that. Its method is to evoke a personal response to the story: what a surprise that was! or, what an unexpected ending! Then it says to us: remember an experience like that and you will know what happens when God comes into people’s lives.

As in every story, you must find yourself identifying with one of the characters; for example, in this parable there are three characters – the rich man, Lazarus, and Abraham.
A reminder for this parable: all Bible meditation must start from experience. Therefore do not read this parable first of all as something that happened in the next life, because you have no experience of that. The parable may well lead you to conclude something about the next life, but you mustn’t start there.     

Sean Goan
Gospel Comment

Still on the theme of the proper use of money, Jesus tells another parable this time showing, in story form, the meaning of the beatitudes in ch 6: ‘Happy you who are poor’ and ‘Woe to you who are rich.’ In the story a wealthy man is utterly unaware of the misery of the poor man who lies at his gate. When they die they find that the situation is reversed. Now it is the rich man who is in need of a mere drop of water and it is Lazarus the poor man who is happy with Abraham in heaven. The point of the story is not to promote the idea of ‘pie in the sky when you die’. It is rather an attack on the greed and selfishness in a world of plenty that leaves the poor excluded. If this was a problem in biblical times, it pales into insignificance when we consider today’s world and the scale of the misery experienced by so many. The parable retains all its force; the difference is Jesus did come back from the dead and not just to tell us about heaven but about the poor people at the gate. Are we listening?

Reflection

It would probably be true to say that most Christians nowadays do not give much thought to the questions about the Second Coming of Jesus. However our life of faith cannot be reduced to following a set of rules. Rather our Christianity must give thought to the fact it depends on a relationship. In this way we will, like Amos, be impatient for an end to all the lifestyles and practices that run contrary to the values of the kingdom of God. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!

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Thomas O’Loughlin,
Homily notes


1. Hearing our basic stories together is one of the key ways that we are formed within communities; and as a community of faith this is a key way through which we remain in union with the teaching of the Christ. These are the two basic reasons why we have them read to us at our Sunday gatherings. The telling and retelling of our sacred texts forms us into the body of Christ, and for this reason we say that one of the modes of Christ’s real presence in the assembly is in the readings.

However, this presence is all too easily obscured. This happens when, for example, a group all want to read the text as individuals from their own books rather than to listen to the text as a group. When this happens — and it is no longer con­fined to Reformation groups who explicitly adopt an individualist approach to the scriptures – the liturgical hearing of our inheritance of stories is more like many people sitting in a library all engaged in their own business, rather than an audience at a play where they react together in sadness, in sympathy or in joy.

Another way that the presence is obscured is when there are too many words or pieces of text that require assistance to make them clear or even comprehensible. A story that is too complex to its hearers is one that does not really create the common memories that make us one people. Therefore, actualizing the presence of Christ in the Liturgy of the Word is one of the most difficult tasks than any president of the Eucharist faces today. But there are occasions when this challenge is far easier to meet; and this Sunday is one of those occasions.

2. The combination of the first reading and the gospel pick out for us that the message of these readings is the Lord’s prefer­ential option for the poor (and not, for example, the structure of judgment or the cosmology of hell – two themes for which this gospel has often been used in the past). And this theme is not only one that is central to the whole message of the Christ, but also one which is comprehensible because it touches some of our basic instincts. The proof that it is comprehensible can be found in the vehemence with which those with vested interests in making easy money at the expense of the poor turned their firepower on the proponents of Liberation Theology – how many other movements in theol­ogy can you think of that have generated such well-financed opposition?

Moreover, in the whole of the gospels (the infancy and pas­sion narratives apart) there is probably no more memorable a story by Jesus: we can picture ‘the rich man’; we can picture hungry Lazarus with his sores being licked by the dogs; we can imagine the flames and the cooling sip of water; and we can imagine ‘being in torment’. To hear this story is to enrich one’s imagination.

3. So today is a day to let these two readings seep into the imagination and contribute to the formation of a community of memory. How does one do this?

Omit the second reading as a distracting interlude to the theme.

Do not preach a homily, but call for a time of silent reflection: two minutes is usually enough.

Ensure that people listen to the two readings: so remove the missalettes and ‘Mass books’.

Make sure that the reader of the first reading appreciates the plan for the liturgy today and reads each ‘woe’ distinctly as something that each of us can take on board as a basic idea.

Read the gospel with special solemnity: procession with book, an escort of lights, and with incense.

Read it out as if telling a story. Some translations are much better for this than others; but, on the whole, the suitability of any translation for capturing the storytelling tone of the original will depend on how it interacts with your own story­telling style. And our individual storytelling styles are as dis­tinctive as our mannerisms, so you may have to experiment with several translations. Below you will see how I have adapted the RSV translation to suit my own style: 

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Scriptural Reflections 

Lord, there are times when we feel very lonely,
       ignored by everyone,
       as if we were at the gate of a very wealthy man,
       longing to fill ourselves with scraps from his table.
       But you lead us from there to an experience of security :
           -  a moment of deep prayer;
           -  we feel loved by our family;
          -   we find ourselves in a group which shares our values.
       We feel as if we had been gathered into the bosom of our ancestors,
       safe from all those who would send us here and there for their own purposes,
       as safe as if a great gulf had been fixed between us
       to stop anyone who wanted to from crossing from our side to theirs,
       and to stop anyone crossing from their side to ours.
       Thank you, Lord.       Lord, remorse is a terrible thing.
       It is being in agony in flames of fire,
       seeing those we have wronged a long way off,
       longing to have them dip their finger in water
       and cool our tongue, and finding that between us and them a great gulf has been fixed
       to stop any crossing from their side to ours.
       Preserve us, Lord.

       Lord, we pray for parents today,
       that they may teach right values to their children,
       teaching them not to set their hearts on purple clothes and fine  linen
       nor on feasting magnificently every day,
       because these things die and are buried,
       but to reverence poor people because one day they will be carried
       away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.

       “We must build a world where freedom is not an empty word
       and where the poor man Lazarus can sit down at the same table with the rich man.”
       Pope Paul VI
       Lord, when we look around at the world today, what do we see?
       Rich nations dressed in purple and fine linen,
       feasting magnificently every day,
       while at their very gates lie poor nations,
       covered with sores and longing to fill themselves
       with scraps from the tables of the rich,
       dogs even come and lick their sores.
       Lord, we pray that your Church may continue to call the world
       to repentance as Jesus did.

       “The moment we cease to hold each other,
       the moment we break faith with one another,
       the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.”
       James Baldwin
       Lord, whenever the time comes
       that rich people dress in purple and fine linen
       and feast magnificently every day,
       while the poor lie at their gates unattended,
       their only future is to die and be buried.
 
HOMILIES: 

1.     Mgr. David Rubino: 

The causes of poverty are numerous, and we are called to action.

Purpose: For those living in poverty, the future is not bright. The reasons are both complex and numerous.  The only real solution, however, is you and I. What are we doing, and what can we do, in facing the depth of poverty?  The liturgy today gives us a clear and, perhaps, uncomfortable, answer.  As the Faith makes clear, this “Eucharist commits us to the poor,” and challenges us to be prayerfully mindful and actively dedicated to the weakest of our brothers and sisters (Catechism of the Catholic Church §1397).

 “Poverty USA,” an initiative of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, recently noted that more than 46 million Americans live in poverty in the U.S. This represents the largest number of people living in poverty in 50 years. Presently, one in six Americans lives in poverty. One in seven households was food insecure last year. American children staying in a shelter or emergency housing last year numbered 1.6 million. The availability of health care, especially to the poor, is so “unavailable” it should be embarrassing to a country with the resources we have in the United States.

American families were having a difficult time making ends meet before the recession. With continuing unemployment and increasing costs of living, more and more families have to choose between necessities like health care, childcare, and even food (Poverty USA). As Ronald Reagan famously predicted, “We fought a war on poverty and poverty won.” With 46 million Americans—15 percent of the population—now counted as poor, the former president may have been right.

The liturgy challenges us to solve the problem of poverty and, after that, the riddle of the Great Sphinx, and the myth of the Bermuda Triangle.  Not really.  The point is that the solution to poverty is difficult.  However, our readings give us a plan for facing poverty.

Our readings tell us that Amos, who is never subtle, railed against the complacent rulers in Zion and Samaria to address injustice and poverty.  Amos, if he had his way, would take every bit of money, jewels, and treasure from the rulers, and give it to the poor. The Gospel solution, however, is quite different. Jesus argues that the poor are a part of God’s plan.  They cannot be ignored because, one day, the poor will have their fate improved. In the interim between starving and salvation, what do we do?

Poverty is the result of a complicated economic system. The causes of poverty, in part, include a shift in business away from our manufacturing base, the lack of education for many, the rise of suburbs, and the breakdown of family systems, and limited success of government programs.  Poverty is a system failure.  Its solution demands a structural economic change to our system in order to better the fate of the poor.

Our role?  Pope Francis, speaking to students from Jesuit-run schools in Italy and Albania, as well as their teachers and family members, compared poverty to a scandal.  “In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons. Poverty today is a cry. We all have to ask ourselves if we can become a little poorer, all of us have to do this. How can I become a little poorer in order to be more like Jesus, who was the poor Teacher?” (NCR, June 7, 2013).

Jesus was always attentive to the needs of the poor. He knew poverty firsthand, and knew it was neither nameless nor faceless.  He knew, and he responded.  And us?   Facing such a large problem on a global stage, we might be tempted to think there is nothing we can do to change it.

In his most recent trip to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day, Pope Francis demonstrated the importance of addressing poverty.   He did not only talk about poverty; he immersed himself in it as he visited a slum, Varginha, within the Manguinhos Complex in the North Zone. In that slum, he made the point, “No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world!”(NCR, July 26, 2013) No one.

Our role: do something; do anything.   “Be servants of communion and of the culture of encounter! I would like you to be almost obsessed about this. Be so without being presumptuous, imposing “our truths,” but rather be guided by the humble, yet joyful, certainty of those who have been found, touched, and transformed by the Truth who is Christ, ever to be proclaimed (cf. Lk 24:13-35). (Pope Francis, Address Bishops and Priests, Cathedral of San Sebastian, Rio de Janeiro, July 27, 2013.)

The rich man in our Gospel never lifted a finger to help the poor beggar.  He ignored the calls for help.  He remained insensitive to the needs of the poor man, Lazarus. He did nothing when a simple word from him would have given Lazarus more food than he could imagine.

The Lord calls us to be sensitive to the poor. It is easy to do nothing in the face of such a problem. It is easy to walk away … we cannot.  No longer can we ignore the welfare of the poor, and the varied conditions that cause poverty.

As the causes of poverty are numerous, so also should our responses be numerous.  Feed one child. Provide one family with shelter.  Give one mother a bed, and a home for her new baby.  Create one job.

Poverty calls for Christian understanding and action.  If Nike can challenge the world to  “Just do it,” how much more can God, and his representatives, exhort all peoples to live out their faith of love, mercy, and justice? 

2.     Connections: 

THE WORD:

The rich man (sometimes known as “Dives”) is not really a bad man, but a self-centered, complacent one.  Dives’ sin is his remaining oblivious to the plight of Lazarus (a name which means “God’s help”) at his gate and his blind acceptance of the poverty of so many and wealth in the hands of so few like himself as the natural, inevitable order of things.  It was not his wealth that kept him from “Abraham's bosom,” but his untrustworthy stewardship of what he had. 

HOMILY POINTS:

Christ calls us to open our eyes to the poor and needy at our own gates and open our hearts to welcome them with compassion and honor.

The rich man of the Gospel and the “worthless rich” of the prophet Amos (today’s first reading) do no understand that the many blessings we have received from God are given for us to share -- to share not out of a sense of obligation but as a joyful opportunity to give thanks to God for his many blessings to us.

In our busy-ness, in our need for “me time,” in our pursuit of our own wants and expectations, we become quite adept at shutting the world out, not seeing or hearing the Lazaruses in our lives — and sometimes we are the isolated Lazarus in need of love and support and understanding.   

Amassing large estates and building up profitable stock portfolios are not the stuff that true legacies are made of.  We will be remembered not for what we possess but for what we give; our lasting legacy will be what we contribute to make our world a happier, healthier place. 

3.     ACP 

Unpacking the Lazarus Riddle

An approach in preaching this gospel would be to open out some of the details of the parable; one could open by telling a modern story of such a change of fortune. Cinderella is a common fairy tale that has the same basic plot. She is poor and oppressed, but her state is changed by her fairy godmother and then she is enthroned as the Princess. Jesus used such a story to get home his message. Then the story could be expanded upon, bringing some details that the 21st century listener might not notice. The beggar’s name gives us a hint as to his inner attitude. He is called Lazarus, or Eliezer, God will help. The beggar is the man who puts his trust in the Lord and longs for him. The rich man is nameless. He is everyone who closes his heart in the face of the human misery that confronts us daily. The rich man has sumptuous food and is clothed in unusually elaborate garments. But his guilt is not mentioned. He did not refuse the poor man anything. He just ignored him. The poor man longed to be filled, but his desire was not fulfilled. The bread that fell was the bread that the guests of the wealthy man used to wipe their fingers clean. It was not even being served to them to be consumed.

Lazarus goes to heaven and basks in the company of Abraham, to whom God’s brightest promises were made. The poor wretch, whose poverty on earth was misinterpreted as punishment for his sins, is welcomed by the angels of God. The rich man descends into the darkness and emptiness of the grave. The sermon could focus on the ultimate settling of accounts, to level off all social injustices. It could stress the need to be aware of the poor on our own doorsteps, who are lacking of the necessities for a decent life?  The rich man did not really deny the existence of Lazarus, he just ignored it, or felt it was in the normal scheme of things. In the richer countries, kept aware by the media of their domestic economic problems, there can be an ostrich mentality that ignores the dire needs of the outside world. The promise of life after death should not be used as an anesthetic to dull the need to work for justice in the real world.

Another option is to start with the state of the rich man in Hades. He has fallen from his real privileged position as a son of Abraham.  The rich man did not really listen to the message of the prophets. Abraham says that the five brothers will not be able to change their way of life if they do not do so through listening to God’s word. The sermon could tackle the falseness of ethereal devotions that stress the extraordinary but ignore the social implications of the real gospel. The circumstances of each community will be important in how this gospel of justice in faith is to be preached. 

With Empty Hands

The parable of “Mr. Rich and Mr. Poor” is a warning for prosperous people in our prosperous countries. Indifference to the needs of the poor is against the gospel. The gospel contrasts the two attitudes, that of Lazarus, the image of the poor, the downtrodden, those left penniless by the greed of the wealthy and the tax-collectors, and whose only hope was in the mercy of God, and on the other hand that of the rich man, clothed extravagantly, and feasting magnificently every day, self-sufficient, not seeing any need whatsoever to beg for God’s mercy. 

Help is at hand for the poor, who for a short while share in Christ’s sufferings so as to share in his glory. For as St Paul tells us, “What we suffer in this life can’t be compared to the glory which is awaiting us.” But for anyone who stores up treasure in this world instead of becoming rich in the sight of God, death brings the realization that his life was wasted, that his spirit wants to be possessed by God, but cannot do so because it has become fixed in its ways. As a man lives, so shall he die.

How should we set about ensuring that we are on the way to heaven? Firstly, desire it above all else. “There is one thing I ask of the Lord; for this I long; to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” (Ps 26). Secondly, to try to bear life’s crosses with patience and faith. Thirdly,  to use this world without becoming engrossed in it, as St Paul says, “because the world as we know it is passing away.” (1 Cor 7:31). Take each day as a gift and try to live it well. The closer we live to God in our daily lives the more intense will be our longing to see him face to face. With the Psalmist we will find ourselves saying, “my soul thirsts for God, the God of my life. When can I enter and see the face of God” (Ps 42).

Celebrity, Revelry and Neglect

As respect for religion diminishes the secular calendar grows. We are all aware now of Father’s Day and Mother’s Day and all the other days designated for certain dates. We shouldn’t really complain, as many of our religious feasts were originally pagan festivals that we baptised. Now it would seem the process is being reversed. The latest addition to our secular calendar is Animal Day early in October. While we don’t begrudge our fur and feathered friends a little bit of special attention the annual expenditure on pet animals is now enormous. Dogs and other household pets are no longer fed on the scraps that fall from our tables, as they were in former times. Advertising for dog-food and cat-food gives an indication of how dramatically our pets’ eating habits have changed. With what we spend on them, we could feed all of the poor people who are dying of starvation.

If when we listen to today’s gospel about Lazarus and the rich man, we tend to identify with Lazarus, we miss the whole point of the story. We, collectively, are the rich man. In Europe we have a mountain of beef, a mountain of cereals, a mountain of butter, a lake of wine and a lake of milk, that cost us a fortune to maintain. These are only the crumbs that fall from our table. Amos” warning is aimed directly at us: “Woe to those ensconced snugly in Zion.” The problem about being collectively responsible for the world’s starving masses is that we can so easily shrug off our personal responsibility. You may be living in a bed-sitter with few comforts or struggling to meet the mortgage repayments on your home. Yet all the services we benefit from, our public transport system, our education, our health services etc. derive from the rich man’s club to which we belong. We dine at the rich man’s table.

Much of our wealth derives from the natural resources our forefathers looted from the Third World. We still take their primary resources for a pittance, like the tea and coffee we drink, and sell it back to them at exorbitant prices. And now, adding insult to injury, our ships are plying the seas in search of a Third World country willing to accept our toxic waste. Having robbed them of their riches we are now returning our rubbish to them.

If we are beginning to wake up to the danger it not because our conscience has finally got to us, but because we realize that we are spoiling our own world. Our revelry is coming home to roost. In that memorable phrase of Amos, “the revelry is over.” Our world is too small to bear such inequalities. Unless we share our table with the world’s hungry, we will all end up in a hell of our own creation. 

4.     God Turns Tables by Thomas J Parlette 

There is an old story told called “Grandfather’s Corner.” It’s the story of an old man who lived with his son and his son’s wife and their children. The man was almost deaf and blind and had difficulty eating without spilling his food. Occasionally, he would drop a bowl and break it. His son and his wife thought this was disgusting and made the old man eat in a corner behind the stove. They gave him a wooden bowl which he couldn’t break.

One day the old man’s little grandson was working with some pieces of wood. When his father asked what he was doing, the little boy said, “I’m making a trough for you and mother to eat out of when I’m all grown up.” From that moment on, the grandfather rejoined the family at the table. No one ever said another word about it.

Just goes to show, what goes around come around in this life. The way we treat other people is the way we will one day be treated. That is especially true within families. That little boy saw the way his father treated his grandfather and assumed that it was an acceptable way to treat someone who was old.

One day Jesus told a story, a parable we call it. A certain rich man had the very best of everything. He was so rich that he didn’t need to work. He had the finest clothing money could buy. He wore the finest purple robes, fit for a King. He had so much food that he was able to have a feast everyday. He lived a life of luxury and excess and was the envy of all his friends and neighbors.

Living outside the gates of the rich man’s estate was a homeless man named Lazarus. Lazarus had nothing. He was desperately poor and hungry and sick. He drew his only comfort from the dogs who came and licked the sores that covered his body. Lazarus spent his days lying on the ground waiting for the servants to throw some food out to him. In the days before forks and spoons, people ate with the only utensils they had available – their fingers. They would wash their fingers in small bowls placed on the table. If you were rich enough, what you would do then was dry your hands on loaves of bread, which would then be thrown out. This discarded, soggy bread was what Lazarus hoped to eat. He lived day after day, never knowing how much food he would get, or if he would get any at all. The little bit of food he did receive he had to fight the dogs for.

The rich man surely saw Lazarus lying out in front of his house, but he never paid much attention to him. He was just an anonymous, homeless man hanging around out front. A man with no name. A man with no face.

That can happen sometimes. We are all guilty of blocking unpleasant sights from our mind. Poor people living in the streets, under bridges or begging at intersections – they might as well be invisible. We pretend we don’t see them. We act as though we don’t hear their cries for food as we pass them by. Poor people are often forgotten people. No one cares much about them. The rich man never really noticed Lazarus. He was just someone who was there – part of the scenery.

But then, as the old saying goes, what goes around comes around. Both men die and something totally unexpected happens. A reversal of fortunes takes place. As Jesus tells this parable, “The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.” The rich man however was not so fortunate. He was headed south, to a warmer climate, you might say. The rich man, who had the best in life, went to Hades – while Lazarus, the poor man who had nothing, went straight to Abraham’s side.

According to Jesus, God often turns the tables like this. Jesus taught many times about God’s reversals. You remember how Jesus said, Many who are first will be last, and the last shall be first.” He also said, “Whoever wants to be great must be the slave of all.” “Those who humble themselves will be exalted, and those who exalt themselves will be humbled.” We know this – but it still goes against our nature. That’s not the way it should be. We admire the rich, don’t we? We are fascinated by wealthy people aren’t we? Probably because one day we’d all like to join their company.

No doubt there were some in the crowd who were disappointed in this story. From their point of view, the fact that the rich man was so wealthy meant that God had shown favor to him. The belief of the day was that righteous people were rewarded – with wealth. The thinking of the day was that the rich man should be the hero of this story – not Lazarus. Sounds like many affluent people even today.

All through this parable, Jesus reverses the common perceptions. For example, notice who is named in this story. The rich man has no name. But Lazarus, the poor man – he is known by name. That is quite unexpected. Even in our world today, we know the rich people, we recognize them, don’t we? We see them on TV giving tours of their luxurious homes. We see their faces on magazine covers at the checkout line in HyVee. We know who they are. The poor, on the other hand, are usually nameless and faceless. We don’t know them. They don’t show up on TV or on the magazine covers. But in this parable, the poor man ends up alongside Abraham, while the rich man ends up in Hades. In this story, the tables are turned and Lazarus has both a face and a name.

God turns the tables. God reverses what we think is important. God’s ways are not always our ways. God does things differently. Both men die and the rich man now discovers what life was like for Lazarus. Sometimes we understand someone a little better when we are able to view life from their angle.

Judge Joe Brown knows something about that. Before he got his own syndicated courtroom show, Judge Joe Brown presided over a criminal court in Memphis, Tennessee. He raised some eyebrows there by ordering burglars to open their homes to former victims. Under the watchful eye of a deputy sheriff, victims could case the burglar’s home and take whatever they wanted, up to a limit set by the judge that approximated what they had lost. “The burglar learns what a good citizen fells like,” says Brown, “worrying whether he’s going to come home and find his stuff still there.

One victim made several trips before he was satisfied. “The first day he didn’t find anything,” says the Judge, “but the second time he came back, he bagged a color TV and a stereo.” The tables were turned and the burglar knew what it felt like to be victimized.

In torment the rich man looks up and sees Lazarus at Abraham’s side. The rich man calls out, Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.” Instead of Lazarus begging for food from the rich man, the rich man is now begging for water from poor Lazarus.

What goes around comes around. This parable teaches us that what’s important in life is not how much we have, but the way we treat other people. The rich man was not necessarily a bad person. He doesn’t do anything wrong, he is a law-abiding citizen. His only sin was that he failed to notice Lazarus lying in his doorway. He never put a name or a face to the poor man right under his nose. The way we treat other people says something about our understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Do we treat the people we come in contact with in ways that Jesus would want us to? Or, like the rich man, do we pretend they are not there?

Abraham answered the rich man saying, “remember that during your life, you received good things, and Lazarus didn’t. But no, he is comforted, and you are in agony.”

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “You can’t take it with you.” It alludes to the idea that we can’t take anything from this world into the next. I wonder, is that really true? There is perhaps one thing we can take with us – relationships. Relationships with others and our relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s the only thing we can truly take with us.

The psychologist Leo Buscaglia tells of an experience he had in Cambodia many years ago. He was there visiting a friend of his, a native of the area. And Leo noticed that during the monsoon season, the people’s way of life changed. The great rains would come and wash away their houses, so the people lived on huge communal rafts – several families, floating along together. Dr. Buscaglia wrote, “I went down there on a bicycle one day with my friend. I thought I’d help these people move their belongings and become part of their community. But my friend just laughed at me. “What do they have to move? Nature has taught them the only thing they have is from the top of their head to the bottom of their feet. Themselves, not things. They can’t collect things because every year the monsoon comes and washes all the things away.”

Dr. Buscaglia reflected on what he saw – “I couldn’t help thinking to myself, what would you do Leo, if the monsoon came to Los Angeles next week? What would you take? Your color TV… your car? The only thing you have to take is you.”

The only thing we take from this life is our relationships with other people and with Jesus Christ. So instead of trying to accumulate as many possessions as we can, our goal should be to strengthen those relationships – with family and friends, with the faceless poor at our own gate, and most of all, with Christ. Ultimately, of course, they are all part of the same package. Remember, Jesus said, “just as you do it for one of the least of these, you do it for me.” The rich man could have helped poor Lazarus, but he chose to ignore him. The rich man discover the hard way, that what goes around, comes around.

In the Mel Brooks movie, Life Stinks, Brooks plays wealthy businessman Goddard Bolt. Goddard Bolt has the best of everything money could buy. He’s wealthy, but his sights are set on making even more. He plans to tear down some old downtown buildings and construct a modern complex with luxury condos and a shopping mall.

“What about all the people living down there?” asks one of his employees.

“What people?” asks Bolt. “There are only old deserted buildings down there.” He never even thinks about all the homeless people just scrapping by in those deserted buildings and back alleys.

So a wager is made that Goddard Bolt can’t live among the street people for 30 days. Bolt takes the bet. While he is living on the streets, he learns firsthand what it’s like to be homeless. He makes friends with the people living on the street and he discovers that they are not bad people – just people down on their luck. On a rainy night, one of his new friends, Sailor, dies on the street and the next morning is found on the sidewalk. No one cares. No one even stops to check to see if he is alive or dead.

After thirty days, Goddard Bolt is a changed man. No longer is making money his only goal in life. Now he wants to build homeless shelters where he once planned luxury condos.

Like the wealthy man in our parable, Goddard Bolt was always too busy or too preoccupied to notice the poor and homeless people living right outside his gate. The difference is Bolt realized his error and was able to change his ways and his attitude before it was too late.

We should all be so fortunate. For there is a bit of the rich man in all of us. There is a lot we are tempted to overlook, ignore or block out. There are faceless, nameless people like Lazarus, suffering in some way all around us. Sometimes we forget that what goes around comes around. But our God is a God of justice. So be careful. Open your eyes. Put a face on Lazarus. For one day the tables will be turned in the Kingdom of God. May God be praised. Amen

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ILLUSTRATIONS: 

1.     Andrew Greeley

Background:

Today’s story is just that, a story. Jesus is not endorsing any particular theology of the hereafter. He is rather making the point that we should seize all the opportunities for charity and responsibility which come along in our life. 

We only go around once as the old beer add used to tell us. Hence we must not so much as grab the glistening beer bottle as pursue all the opportunities to do good that we encounter. 

Story:

Once upon a time two girls joined Molly Whoopy’s girl’s basketball team at Mother Mary High School. They were very good players, but they didn’t like to practice hard. One of them became a starter and the other sixth person. During games they played real hard, but because they didn’t practice much and didn’t listen to the coach’s talks, and made all kinds of mistakes. The coach goes to Molly, like, maybe we should throw them off the team. Sondra and Sonia, for that were their names, began to campaign to stay on the team. They were cute and funny and charming. They talked to every girl on the team, they tried to charm the coach, they had a party for the team, they gave the other players presents, they even showed up on time for practice, though they didn’t practice very hard. They took Molly to the ice cream store at the Mall and bought her a double chocolate malt with whipped cream because they knew Molly was a chocolate freak. 

 Finally, they’re like, “Molly, you know, we’ve been real dweebs, you know, but we, you know really want to stay on the team.” But Molly’s like, “if you had put in as much time and energy on practice as you have on charming everyone, then we’d be in first place. I’m like telling the coach you should be 11th and 12th on the team and earn your way back up. They weren’t very happy with that decision because, you know there are only ten players on team. But Molly goes to her boyfriend Joe, “Why didn’t they work at basketball.” And Joe’s like “it’s easier to buy you a double chocolate malt.” And Molly’s like WELL, it didn’t do them any good.”

2.     Connections: 

The gospel of poverty

Once there was a priest sent to a poor village in the mountains.  On his first day there, he gathered up all the bread and blankets and medicine he could and began to visit his parishioners.

At the first hut, a mother was caring for a child sick with a fever.  Father watched as she nestled the child in her arms, wiping the boy’s face with a wet rag.  For hours she held the child, patiently wiping his brow, whispering a little song as he slept.  Father blessed the child and his mother, left some medicine, and went on his way.

At another house, Father arrived in time for supper.  The mother had prepared a weak soup of water and a few vegetables she had begged that day.  She happily welcomed the priest and offered him a small cup.  As he took the soup and joined the other members of the family, he did not see a cup or bowl for the mother.  He blessed the family, left some bread, and moved on.

As he arrived at the last house, a cold rain began to fall.  An elderly couple lived there.  The small fire offered little warmth from the damp cold.  The old woman was lying on a mat, trying to sleep.  She grasped the threadbare blanket around her to keep warm.  Her husband had taken off his own tattered coat and tucked it around her, then sat beside her and rubbed her back to help keep her warm.  Father blessed them both, left blankets for them, and returned to his own small house.

That night, having given away all of the food and medicine and blankets he had, the priest sat down and looked at his now empty cupboard and realized that he had been the one who was blessed that day.

Jesus calls his disciples not only to care for the poor but also to learn from the poor.  The Lazaruses in our midst can teach us a great deal about compassion and generosity; in their poverty, they can show us how to possess real treasures of life; in their humility, they reflect the dignity of being made in the very image of God.  The rich man of today’s Gospel and the “worthless rich” excoriated by the prophet Amos (today’s first reading) are too self-absorbed and satisfied to grasp the wisdom that the poor have to teach them: that the many blessings they -- and we -- have been given by God are a responsibility and a means to realize God’s dream of a just and merciful community of humanity.

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3.     Dr. Albert Schweitzer

What parable would make a man with three doctoral degrees (one in medicine, one in theology, one in philosophy) leave civilization with all of its culture and amenities and depart for the jungles of darkest Africa? What parable could induce a man, who was recognized as one of the best concert organists in all of Europe, go to a place where there were no organs to play. What parable would so intensely motivate a man that he would give up a teaching position in Vienna, Austria to go and deal with people who were so deprived that they were still living in the superstitions of the dark ages for all practical purposes. The man who I am talking about, of course, is Dr. Albert Schweitzer. And the single parable that so radically altered his life, according to him, was our text for this morning. It was the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

The Rich Man and Lazarus were neighbors, you know. They saw each other every day. Oh, not socially you understand, but there was contact. Every day the Rich Man saw this beggar at his front gate. Who were these men? 

We shall call the Rich Man Dives [pronounced 'Dive-ees': it's Latin for "Rich Man" as he has been called for centuries] Dives would have felt very comfortable living in our present time. He was a progressive kind of a guy. He was self-indulgent and this is the age of self-indulgency. The contrasting life-styles of these two men is so obvious that you can't miss it. Dives was a connoisseur, a lover of the arts, one who knows and appreciates fine living, four star restaurants. 

We are told in vs. 19 that he habitually dressed in purple. Purple was known as the color of royalty because it was the most expensive dye in the ancient world. Only the upper echelon and the high priest could afford it. We are also told that his undergarments were made of fine linen. Linen, the lifestyle of the rich and famous. 

The other man in the story is Lazarus. How can we describe Lazarus? Lararus is homeless. We are told in vs. 20 that he was a cripple. Lazarus barely made it from day to day, living off the leftovers thrown to him by Dives as he daily passed him. He is just a survivor, that's all you can say of him...

4.     We are all one family 

We are all about family. The truth is, the problem is, we are all about OTHER people's families.  

The most popular show on television today? "Duck Dynasty." After that there are the programs about "The Kardashians," "Housewives," of various zip codes, and "Hoarders." We like to spy-glass at the inner-workings of family relationships that we can keep at arm's length - or TIVO for a later, more convenient time.

Our own family relationships cannot be put on hold. Whether it is a teething infant, a tantrum-tossing toddler, a hormone-hosed teenager, a suffering spouse, or an aging parent - we have to deal with our family in "real time" not unreal reality tv time. Those with whom we have a true connection don't just get our attention when it is convenient. That is what makes us a "family." 

Jesus' parable in this week's gospel text is almost too familiar for our ears to hear the real challenge that it offers. It is easy to read about a rich, self-absorbed, politically important man who is so involved in his own life, so busy orchestrating his own pleasures and perks, that he completely ignores the plight of Lazarus, a man who falls inside his gate, but far outside his pay-grade.  

But that is not the shock-treatment that Jesus' parable is administering. The Pharisees to whom Jesus was speaking would not be surprised that a wealthy man who totally rejected laws of alms-giving and care for the poor ended up in the hot-house of Hades. The righteous minded, Torah toeing, jot-and-tittle crossing Pharisees would have seen that as completely acceptable. So Jesus does NOT portray some ultimate "bad guy" tossing poor Lazarus to the curb. Instead Jesus offered a picture of first-century, socially acceptable compassion, extended by this incredibly wealthy man, to an incredibly unacceptable person... 

5.     The Violence of Apathy 

This parable targets the violence of apathy and neglect which is widening the chasm between rich and poor. The trouble is that even such abstractions become easy to live with. We need some firsthand experience of encountering the real people whom we will then not be able to dismiss as relative statistics. And if that cannot be first hand, we need to help people engage in active imagination of what it really means to be poor, to be a refugee, to be caught on the wrong side of the chasms which vested interests maintain.

William Loader, First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages from the Lectionary
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6.     The Trouble with Generalization

 Whenever we generalize people -- the poor, the rich, the elderly, teenagers, the clergy, the laity, etc., we dehumanize them. I was visiting a large church when I heard one of the members state that he didn't like women pastors. This surprised me. I asked him, "What about Sally?" Sally was one of the three clergy at the church. "Oh, Sally...she's different!" was the reply. This female clergy had a name -- and with that, a relationship with this member. That, I think, was the difference.

We may be tempted to generalize the rich -- since so few of us belong to that category. The rich man is not named, but he is also not condemned for being rich, but for his indifference and uncaring attitude towards poor Lazarus right outside his door. Remember that Abraham was wealthy, and he isn't in the place of torment.

Brian Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes
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7.     Who Have We Been Trampling? 

There is an ancient story about a botanist who was studying the heather bell found in the highlands of Scotland. While looking through his microscope at this beautiful flower, he was approached by a shepherd who asked what he was doing. Rather than trying to explain, the botanist invited the shepherd to peer through his microscope and observe for himself. When the shepherd saw the wonder of the flower, he exclaimed, "My God, and I have been tramping on them all my life!"

Is that the word of warning we need? Wake up! Pay attention! Look around you. You may be tramping on the heart of someone nearby. Who is the Lazarus at your gate?

King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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8.     The Torment of the Mature

"The torment of the dead is that they cannot warn the living, just as it is the torment of the mature that the erring young will not listen to them."
 
Dr. Helmut Thielicke
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9.     The Stopped Up Dam 

There was a beautiful lake that lost its zesty freshness. The water formerly had been clear. It was alluring to animals and people alike. But it became covered with a green scum. The farm animals became ill from drinking the water. Finally someone came by the lake who understood the problem. Debris collecting from the hard spring rains had stopped up the dam and prevented the free flow of water, not into the lake, but out of the lake. The spillway was cleared, and soon the lake was fresh and clean again. The flow in and out was necessary to keep the water pure! 

Doesn't the same principle apply to you and me as human beings? The blessings of life flow to you and me, but we fail to realize that most of these blessings are not meant just to flow to us, but through us, for the good of others around us, especially for those in need. 

Richard W. Patt, All Stirred Up, CSS Publishing
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He who lives only to benefit himself confers on the world a benefit when he dies.

Tertullian
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10.  Drowsy Living 

There is a sign series on the West Virginia Turnpike that says, "Driving while drowsy can put you to sleep - permanently." Drowsy, uncaring living can put us to sleep - permanently. That kind of person, Jesus says, is separating himself from God until it becomes permanent, by digging a chasm between himself and heaven that even the love of God cannot bridge. 

Carveth Mitchell, The Sign in the Subway, CSS Publishing Company
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11.  Habituation 

A noisy elevated train used to run along Third Avenue in New York City. After it was torn down, "many people in the neighborhood began to call the police quite late to report something strange occurring " unusual noises, suspected thieves or burglars. . . . The police determined that these calls took place at about the time the former late-night train would have passed these people's houses. What they were hearing' was the absence of the familiar noise of the train." They had grown habituated to this particular noise. Now they would have to become habituated to its absence. Habituation. Growing so accustomed to something that we no longer even realize it is there.

King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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12.  The Only Thing You Have 

Dr. Leo Buscalgia tells of an experience he had in Cambodia years ago. He noticed that during monsoon season the people's way of life changed. The great rains washed away their houses, so the people lived on great communal rafts, several families together. Dr. Buscalgia writes: "I went down there on a bicycle and there they were. I thought I'd help these people move and become part of their community. The Frenchwoman whom I was talking with just laughed. `What do they have to move?' she asked. `Nature has taught them the only thing they have is from the top of their head to the bottom of their feet. Themselves, not things. They can't collect things because every year the monsoon comes.'"
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Fr. Tony Kadavil:

"America's Mansions." There was a television show, America's Mansions, featuring homes of the extremely rich in the U. S. It featured the Vanderbilt estate in Hyde Park, New York constructed by a wealthy industrialist of the nineteenth century. It is a fifty-four room home, with a breathtaking view of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains in the distance. Another feature was the home of Bill Gates the richest man in the world. Its building cost was over $53 million.  It is a fifty-four room house: a 66,000 square foot complex with seven bedrooms, 24 bathrooms, six fireplaces and an 11,500 square-foot inner sanctum for privacy. The financier Nelson Peltz’s mansion on his waterfront estate in Florida is worth $75 million. The original price of the Bel-Air Mansion owned by Iris Cantor, the widow of Gerald Cantor, was $60 million. (http://www.forbes.com).  We find it hard to imagine living in such luxury. But neither can we imagine the poverty found around the world.   Here is the report of the United Nations Human Development Commission. "The richest fifth [20 percent] of the world's people consumes 86 percent of all goods and services, while the poorest fifth [20 percent] consumes just 1.3 percent.” The three richest people in the world have assets that exceed the combined gross domestic product of the 48 least developed countries. "Americans spend $8 billion a year on cosmetics--$2 billion more than the estimated annual total needed to provide basic education for everyone in the world.” Each day over 700 million people do not get enough to eat. Each year twelve million children below the age of five starve to death in a world that produces enough food for everyone to eat over 4 pounds of food a day. 250,000 go blind each year because of vitamin deficiency in their diet. In Latin America, forty million abandoned children live on the streets. Even in the United States about three million people are homeless at least a part of each year. In today’s Gospel, Jesus suggests a remedy: share your blessings generously with others instead of using them selfishly and thus making yourselves eligible for eternal punishment.
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Sharing is the criterion of Last Judgment: Matthew (25: 31ff), tells us that all six questions to be asked of each one of us by Jesus when He comes in glory as our judge are based on how we have shared our blessings from Him  (food, drink, home, mercy and compassion), with others. Here is the message given by Pope John Paul II in Yankee Stadium, New York during his first visit to the U.S., October 2, 1979. "The parable of the rich man and Lazarus must always be present in our memory; it must form our conscience. Christ demands openness to our brothers and sisters in need – openness from the rich, the affluent, the economically advanced; openness to the poor, the underdeveloped and the disadvantaged. Christ demands an openness that is more than benign attention, more than token actions or halfhearted efforts that leave the poor as destitute as before or even more so. ...We cannot stand idly by, enjoying our own riches and freedom, if, in any place, the Lazarus of the 20th century stands at our doors.”