Amos 6: 1,4-7
September 25-26, 2010, Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C
Then Abraham said, 'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.'"
Today's story of Lazarus and the rich man is one of the most well known Gospel stories. I don't know how many times I have heard it or heard references to it. I have preached on it at least 3 or 4 times and in the course of preparing those homilies read dozens of different commentaries on it. Up until last week when I started preparing for this weekend, I looked at it as pretty straightforward story: Jesus was teaching us how important it is to be aware of the poor among us, and to take care of them.
But this time I got something completely different from it. If it was just a simple story about becoming aware of the poor and suffering among us, it is still pretty challenging. Am I really the rich man who is not aware of the struggling Lazaruses lying by my gate? Am I too blinded by all the "stuff" I have to even realize that I am blind to him or her? Am I headed for an afterlife of pain and suffering because of the pleasures of my earthly life here in Stow? But wait a minute. If that were Jesus' only point, the story could have stopped with the scene of Lazarus lounging in the bosom of Abraham and the rich man suffering his justly deserved agony in the netherworld. But he doesn't stop there. He goes on to add that little exchange about why Abraham won't send Lazarus to the rich man's brothers to warn them to change their ways. That makes this story about so much more than just taking care of the poor among us. Jesus is challenging us to reflect on how we see faith, who we look to as a model of how to live.
If I am totally honest about how I live as a Christian, or how our supposedly Christian country lives, or even how our Catholic church lives in the day to day moments, I have to admit that on every level we (and I) fail to "follow" Jesus. Jesus has Abraham say that if the people of Israel did not listen to the prophets, they would not listen to someone come back from the dead. We have it even worse than the rich man's brothers: we have had someone come back from the dead, and not just a prophet, but God incarnate, and we still don't seem to be able to listen and follow.
Jesus' message is pretty simple: the kingdom of God is at hand. To make it a full reality, we need to recognize that God is loving and forgiving. Jesus give us ample proof of that. Then we are to follow Jesus' example, and by loving and forgiving, help those around us to see that they are loved. And then do it again, and again. He gave us just one commandment: love each other with God's love. He lived life to the fullness of any human being: dining with friends, sharing love and wisdom and healing, crying in sorrow, and then giving his all on the cross. He didn't give us dogma or explanations; he just told us, "Follow me."
Is there anyone here that thinks that is the image of the Church anywhere in the world today? I know there are pockets of followers of Christ who live that message but I suggest that they are few and far between.
How did we become a Church that is looked at as condemning and restrictive, instead of loving and forgiving?
How did we become a Church that divides, bitterly at times, over which words we use to talk about God, or what gestures we use in our worship?
How did we become a Church where most of our participation is out of habit or under penalty of punishment instead of out of true passionate love for God and each other?
How did we become a Church that gives the impression that only children need to be formed in faith?
How did we become a Church where membership is judged by what we say we believe as opposed to how we love?
How did we become a Church that thinks salvation is about getting to a place instead of being possessed by God?
How did we become a Church that thinks prayer is about changing God instead of changing us?
Please understand that I am not saying that how we pray, or what we believe in, or our participation in liturgy is not important. It is, but only if it flows from our change of heart, our conversion, our becoming new people in Christ. Not the other way around. My favorite example of what I mean is marital fidelity. If I am in love with my wife, I don't need a law or a commandment to keep me faithful to her. Is being faithful to her important? You better believe it. Betsy has made that clear to me! But the faithfulness flows from love not from some creed or some law.
And I am certainly not just bashing the Church or saying the Catholic Church is not good or necessary. I am saying that to have a Church that is the visible presence of a loving and forgiving God on earth, we need to follow Christ. We can't sit back and wait for the Church to change us.
We are the rich man and his brothers in this tale. Not just with regards to worldly goods but even more dramatically in spiritual goods. We have been baptized into the body of Christ. We gather here today to enjoy in the Eucharist, the incredible foretaste of this kingdom. We have been entrusted with the message of salvation. But we are also Lazarus, lying suffering at the gate of the rich man who has all this wealth and does not know how to share it. We could spend hours discussing why this is so but I am will to bet that it is because what Jesus asks of us requires suffering and love in order so that we might repent, turn around, be converted. Who wants to do that? It is much easier to believe in a few teachings and come to Mass. Forget about me having to change!
In this parish, we have the added luxury of having a way to continue our formation, our conversion in faith as adults but so few take advantage of it. This year in Generations of Faith we are exploring scripture. What better way to listen to Moses and the prophets, and Jesus risen from the dead.
So in the words of Paul to Timothy: we men and women of God, need to pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. We need to compete well for the faith and lay hold of eternal life, to which we were called when we made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses. To do that we need to follow Jesus, all the way through the cross to rise to new life.