Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon Blaine Barclay

September 29th, 2019

Our gospel today tells the famous story of a destitute beggar named Lazarus, and an unnamed rich man. Lazarus hungers even for the crumbs from the rich man’s table. His poverty is so extreme that the household dogs, who are presumably eating the scraps from the table, are licking his open wounds. Even though Lazarus is lying at the gate of his mansion, the rich man, whom tradition give the name Dives, passes him by without seeing him. This kind of destitute poverty makes someone invisible to those of us who are so sunk in our own comfort that we no longer have the eyes to see.This is as true today as it was at the time Jesus told this story. The poor are often invisible.
Lazarus finally succumbs to his hunger and his wounds, and dies. He is carried by the Angels to ‘the bosom of Abraham’, an ancient Jewish way of talking about paradise or heaven.
On the other hand, when the rich man dies he finds himself in Hades, the place of the dead, a shadowy place of suffering and torment. Only then does he see Lazarus, across a great abyss, in the bosom of Abraham. Their fates have been reversed, the last has become first and the first has become last. The Kingdom of God is the great reversal.

Our first reading from the Prophet Amos also paints a picture of the fate of those who live a life of luxury, deaf to the cry of the poor. Sleeping on beds inlaid with ivory, while the poor of the land sleep on thin woven mats. Eating veal and lambs, the most tender cuts, fine wines, and perfumed oils, while the poor of the land dine on veggies and grains, and maybe a little fish. The heart of the matter, however, is their blindness to the cry of the poor. As it says, ‘they are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph’, which means the people of Israel as a whole. As as consequence, Amos says ‘they shall be the first to go into Exile’.

This all raises the question of where God is in all this? In the face of such extremes of wealth and poverty in the world. Then and now. What kind of God is God? Psalm 146, our Psalm for today, spells it out clearly and without ambiguity. It reads like a list, of an Old Testament version of the corporal works of mercy.

“It is the Lord who…
executes Justice for the oppressed
gives food to the hungry
sets the prisoners free
opens the eyes of the blind
lifts up those who are bowed down
loves the righteous
watches over the strangers
upholds the orphan and the widow’.

Such is the character of God, the God of bottomless compassion, and tender mercy. Who wants to transform us into this image, this way of life. The opposite of a way of life that makes the face of the other invisible, that insulates us from the pain of the world, and deaf to the cry of the poor.

Finally, St. Paul admonishes Timothy to ‘fight the good fight of the faith’. He uses this language elsewhere, urging us to put on the armour of God, take up the sword of the word, and to not just train as if for shadow boxing. For this is a fight. A fight against the insulated heart, the sheltered life, that refuses the face of the other. How do we do this? St. Paul’s advice to Timothy is advice for us also. ‘Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.’ Other translations speak of justice, meekness, patience, holy living, and a life of wonder.
But it amounts to the same call for virtuous living with a heavy dose of generosity toward others. The last verse of our gospel today kind of sums it up. For those of us who persist in our insulated self protective bubble, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead”. For those of us with a heart that can still be broken for the broken hearted, we can turn this verse on its head, ‘listen to Moses and the Prophets, and Jesus, the one who rises from the dead’.