By Martin Jumbam
The Universal Church celebrates Sunday, September 29, 2013, as the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C. In the entrance antiphon we pray: “O Lord, you had just cause to judge men as you did: because we sinned against you and disobeyed your will. But now show us your greatness of heart, and treat us with your unbounded kindness. Amen.”
The false sense of security that wealth often brings is the theme of this day’s Eucharist. This comes out clearly in the first reading and in the Gospel. In the first reading, Amos, the ‘social reformer’ prophet, warns those who live in affluence that they should hate evil, love good and maintain social justice, a warning that falls on deaf ears as the rich priestly and princely ruling class is too self-complacent to listen. The result is that when the invading armies come into Israel from the north, it is the same ruling class that is shipped off into exile first. In the Gospel, Jesus warns the religious leaders of his day, in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, that if they deprive the poor of their birthright in God’s land the consequences will be disastrous for them. The rich must share because they have duties and responsibilities towards their less fortunate brothers and sisters. In his final exhortation, Saint Paul, in the second reading, reminds his assistant Timothy that his baptism and ordination as God’s minister should give him [Timothy] courage to be faithful to the task before him — which is living a saintly life, showing firmness and sincerity in preaching the Gospel to the poor and the rich alike. In the course of this Eucharist, let us pray for the grace of generosity, especially towards the poor and the marginalized who are outside our door.
First Reading: Amos 6:1. 4-7.
The almighty Lord says this: “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion and to those who feel so safe on the mountain of Samaria. Woe to those who lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the midst of the stall; who sing idle songs on the harp, and like David invent for themselves new instruments of music; who drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! Therefore they shall now be the first of those to go into exile, and the revelry of those who stretch themselves shall pass away.”
V/ The word of the Lord:
R/ Thanks be to God.
What I said last Sunday about the prophet Amos is perhaps worth repeating today. Amos is one of the great characters of the Old Testament. He is known as the ‘social reformer’ prophet. He was a layman, a farmer whom God called from his sycamore farm and made a prophet of him. His prophetic ministry was short but very intense. He was obedient to the divine call that led him to take very courageous decisions in the face of much opposition, especially from the priestly classes.
In the Israel of his day, economic circumstances were relatively favourable, though limited to particular social classes. The poor, as it is the case in Cameroon today, often lived in abject poverty and were greatly repressed by the ruling priestly and princely classes. The rich showed little or no sympathy for the plight of the poor; the judges were corrupt and the innocents were brutalized. In the midst of all this luxury and misery, religion flourished. People thronged to the shrines at festival time to practice elaborate rituals. Amos regarded all those religious rituals as a mockery of God’s compassion because the perpetrators of social injustice sought to conceal their acts by hypocritical religious activities.
Shortly before the passage of our meditation, Amos had warned the rich ‘to hate evil, love good and maintain justice at the city gate’ (5: 15) but his warning fell on deaf ears. The wealthy were too sure of their own security to listen to the ramblings of a man who claimed to be a prophet. He warns them of the impending collapse of Israel and what will happen to them. Their feasting will be over and they will head the column of captives being taken into exile in Babylon.
What lesson do we draw from this reading? Amos condemns the false sense of security many of the rich often have. They usually direct their values entirely onto themselves, leaving no room for God or for others. Such human security and the goal of personal pleasure cannot stand up on the day of divine judgement. That is what happened to the ruling classes of Jerusalem of Amos’ day. They refused to heed the prophet’s warning and were the first to be exiled when foreign forces took over their land.
Let us pray for the grace to root our lives in God and in the service of others so that we may face hardship with courage and integrity. We make our supplication through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Second Reading: First Timothy 6:11-16
O Man of God, aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the Kind of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see. To him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen.
V/ The word of the Lord
R/ Thanks be to God.
In this final exhortation, Saint Paul reminds his assistant Timothy that his baptism and ordination as God’s minister should give him [Timothy] the courage to be faithful to the difficult task he has to organize the Church in the face of the heretical attacks from Paul's enemies. He can however not succeed in this difficult mission if he is not totally dedicated to Christ in imitation of him, Paul. He tells his young assistant that witnessing to the Gospel should be his entire vocation. For that, he must live a saintly life, be firm and sincere in all he does, and preach the Gospel to the poor and the rich alike.
Saint Paul never tires of asking others to imitate him as he, in turn, imitates Christ. He now urges Timothy to become an imitator of Christ by standing firm in the Gospel even at the threat of death. The only way people are going to approach the eternal and inaccessible light of God is through the message Timothy preaches to them.
What lesson am I taking home from this reading? We have all been chosen to be the yeast that transforms and sanctifies our society. Like Timothy, we are all called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Mt 5: 13-14). We are therefore expected to help save people from eternal damnation as the first Christians did in their communities. When we attend to the needs of our neighbours, we are able to influence our surroundings and bring a smile where there are tears.
As Amos tells us, in the first reading, and Christ in the Gospel, happiness and salvation do not come from the possession of earthly goods, but rather from living a holy life, as Paul advises Timothy to do.
Let us pray, as the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI advises, to keep our gaze permanently fixed upon Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith because in him, all the anguish and all the longing of the human heart finds fulfillment (Porta Fidei, 13). We make our supplication through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Gospel: Luke 16: 10-31.
At that time, Jesus said to the Pharisees, “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ “But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ "He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.”
V/ The Gospel of the Lord.
R/ Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
This Sunday's liturgy warns us that an excessive concern for the comfort and things of this world inevitably leads us to neglect God and our neighbor. That is what the prophet Amos tells us in the first reading and, in the second reading, Saint Paul warns his assistant Timothy to dedicate himself to God alone, to live a saintly life and to be filled with faith and love for God and neighbor. In the Gospel parable of the poor man, Lazarus, and the nameless rich man, Christ sternly warns the Pharisees that their place in hell is assured unless they change their attitude towards the poor man at their gate.
The rich man in the parable has an impressive wardrobe: he dresses in purple and fine linen and feasts magnificently each day, while his neighbor, Lazarus, lies outside his door naked and with nothing to eat. He longs to fill himself with the scraps from the rich man’s table, but he is given none. Here, we think of Christ's encounter with the Canaanite woman whose daughter is possessed by a demon. She reminds our Lord that "Even house dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master's table" (Mt. 15:27). Lazarus wishes he could get a crumb of bread thrown out to him. We can even hear him praying: “Give me this day my daily bread.” The rich man, on the other hand, has much more than his daily bread, and his mind is more focused on the things of life that bring him pleasure and enjoyment than on prayer or the fate of his neighbour.
The question that comes to mind is whether the rich man does not have the right to enjoy his riches? After all, he does not chase away Lazarus from his door; he simply ignores him; and that is precisely where he sins. He accepts, without question, that he is rich and Lazarus is poor. In the prayer ‘I confess’ we pray to God, ... ‘that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.’ In this case, the rich man commits the sin of omission because he fails to come to the rescue of a brother who lies in need outside his door.
This Gospel challenges us to always ask ourselves how we can live a happy life while so many other people suffer around us? You are not condemned for being rich, you are condemned for not sharing what you have with the have-nots of your society. Your wealth is a gift from God. He has not given it to you to selfishly use it for yourself alone. That is the message Blessed John Paul II gave during his first visit to the United States of America in 1979. Addressing the crowd in the Yankee Stadium in New York City, the pope said, among other things, "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. [...] The rich man and Lazarus are both human beings, both of them equally created in the image and likeness of God, both of them equally redeemed by Christ at a great price, the price of the precious blood of Christ. […] The poor of the United States and of the world are your brothers and sisters in Christ. You must never be content to leave them just the crumbs of the feast” (Homily, Yankee Stadium, New York City, October 2, 1979).
This Gospel parable therefore warns the rich not to be blind to the needs of the poor. They have the obligation to share. The rich man is punished, not because he is rich – a gift from God -- but because of his selfishness. Saint Augustine puts it beautifully: “Lazarus was received into heaven because of his humility and not because of his poverty. Wealth itself was not what kept the rich man from eternal bliss. His punishment was for selfishness and disloyalty" (Sermon 24, 3).
Let us pray for the grace of generosity so we can share what we have with those who have not. We make our prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.