One God, One People
September 25, 2016
THE TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR C
To live is to be aware. To be unaware is to be half dead. The readings today deal with complacency, which is one of the worst kinds of unawareness. So we ask ourselves, “Is the God of peace disturbing me?” God’s disturbance always holds the promise of peace and leads to peace. That is how we distinguish it from worry.
The Entrance Antiphon focuses above all on God’s “greatness of heart” and “unbounded kindness.” This is what gives us the courage to admit that God has “just cause to judge” us, because we “sinned against you and disobeyed your will.”
The Scriptures sometimes call the bad things that happen to us on earth God’s “judgments” against us. This does not mean God “sends” disasters and causes them to happen in order to punish us. Most of the bad things that happen on earth (except “natural disasters”) are simply the result of our failure as persons and communities to follow the “manufacturer’s instructions” in using the human powers God gave us. To break God’s rules is to sin against each other by doing what God warned us would mess up the world. Then the mess we make is the “judgment” against us pronounced by the consequences of our own actions.
But there is a remedy. In the Opening Prayer(s) we say God shows his “almighty power” in “unbounded mercy” and “constant forgiveness of our sins.” God doesn’t just forgive; he heals. And so we ask that the “power of his love” will be in us to bring, not only his pardon but his kingdom to all we meet and deal with. We count on God, not just to forgive us, but to empower us — as stewards of God's mysteries — to free ourselves and others from all that diminishes the quality of life on earth. The Responsorial Psalm is appropriately, “Praise the Lord, my soul” (Psalm 146). When we add to our awareness of what the world has become our awareness of what God unchangingly is, we always have a reason to express joy in praise.
Sleep of Prisoners
Amos 6: 1-7 tells us that we can’t get rid of prison walls by closing our eyes to them — or keep the crumbling walls of our society from falling in on us by refusing to look at the cracks in them. When we say the ostrich thinks it is hiding from its foes by burying its head in the ground, that is a myth: God wouldn’t make any animal that dumb! Only rational animals act irrationally.
We not only let sin enslave us; we let it blind us by refusing to look at what it is doing to us. Amos says that if we can’t see it in our own selves, we should look around us. What is sin doing to our society, our environment, our culture? If we don’t see the reflection of our personal choices in the public life of our country, we are not connecting the dots.
It isn’t just our country that we affect. What we do and say, the attitudes and values we accept and express in our conduct (not always consistent with our words) are what give shape to our family life; to our environment at school and at work; to our social life. We lie in the bed we make, whether we face the fact we are making it or not.
Woe to the complacent in Zion!
Lying on beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches….
They shall be the first to go into exile!
So keep using bad language, and see how you and others unconsciously come to devalue the body and its sexuality. Keep talking unkindly to and about people, and see how enjoyable your company becomes. Keep working or shopping on Sunday and see how tense you soon find life in these United States. Keep voting narrowly for candidates who favor your own interests and see what happens to the overall good of the country. Sit by passively while our government follows policies that make the poor (and poor countries) poorer and the rich (and rich countries) richer — and then act indignant “when whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores.”1
Dip occasionally into “social” drugs — contributing to the drug trade — and watch your city become immersed in crime and murder. Keep silence while we Americans initiate “first strike” wars, copy criminals by killing officially those who kill unofficially, destroy living babies in their mothers’ wombs — and see how secure you feel about your own life in the “culture of death” we create. Raise your voice, if not your fist, in violence and see how peaceful things remain around you. Keep sleeping, and see what you wake up to. That is what Amos is saying.
Can you still say, “Praise the Lord, my soul”? You can if you open your eyes and look at what God is, so that when you have the courage to look at what the world (and your life in it) is becoming you will draw hope to do something about it.
A gated community
In Luke 16: 19-31 Jesus shows us a man who doesn’t have to close his eyes to the suffering around him; he just manages to keep it far enough away from himself that he never has to see it.
Lazarus, the poor man, lay outside the rich man’s gate. The rich man lived inside the walls, separate and isolated from the condition of those outside. He seldom, if ever, had to say “No” to the pleas of the poor: they never got close enough to ask him for anything.
We may live in affluent suburbs, where poverty is not visible. If so, in our case does “Out of sight” mean “out of mind”? The farther we are physically from the poor, the closer we have to keep ourselves spiritually to their condition. We have to listen for what we don’t hear, look for what we don’t see, be sure we are touched by what we don’t feel. We have to make sure we are informed. This is our responsibility as stewards of the kingdom of God. We are all our “brother’s keeper.” When God asks us, “How is your brother? In what shape is your sister?” we must not answer as Cain did: “I do not know.”
Isolation works both ways. When the rich man died and asked “from the abode of the dead, where he was in torment,” that Lazarus might give him a touch of cool water, Abraham replied, “between you and us there is fixed a great abyss, so that those who might wish to pass from here to you cannot do so, nor can anyone cross from your side to us.” What goes around comes around. Those who build walls to keep the poor on the “other side” will find themselves on the “other side,” excluded from the party, when God calls everyone together at the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.” Scripture warns: “If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard.”2
The response, “Praise the Lord, my soul!” is followed by “Happy are those who… secure justice for the oppressed, who give food to the hungry.” What we praise God for above all is love: his and ours (his revealed in ours). To live out God’s love for everyone, rich and poor, is responsible stewardship.
The root of all
Abraham may appear a little cynical in the Gospel story. When the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his rich family to “warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment,” Abraham answers, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” The rich man replies, “No, they wont, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent,” In Abraham’s answer we can hear the voice of everyone who has experience preaching the Gospel: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
Luke’s point was, Jesus has risen from the dead. He is preaching today in us who are his risen body on earth. And people still don’t listen. But we must not let this discourage us. In 1Timothy 6: 11-16 Paul is writing to a “bishop” — the word means “overseer’ — charged with that special responsibility for the community that is synonymous with authority. He is urging him to be a faithful steward, to “fight the good fight of faith” and to persevere, in spite of all resistance, in “the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, the doctrine that is in accordance with true religion.” 3
What is this sound teaching? Paul’s main focus is on the temptation of those who “long to be rich.” “They get trapped into all sorts of foolish and dangerous ambitions which eventually plunge them into ruin and destruction. The love of money is the root of all evils.” The bishop, “as a man dedicated to God,” — as all of us are by Baptism — must take special care to shun wealth and prestige in order to preach more by example than by words. Not to do this, whether as a bishop or layperson, is to be an “unfaithful steward” — at least in this particular way.
It is in the example of our lifestyle that the presence of the risen Jesus in us is revealed. This makes it an act of faithful stewardship to live in such a way that we will be able to extend the reign of God through what we say and do. This calls us to solidarity with rich and poor alike. Since all we have and use belongs to God, as good managers we must use and acquire things only in ways that are in God’s best interest; that is, for the good of the whole human race.
1See Edwin Markham’s poem, “The Man With the Hoe.” 2Genesis 4:9, Matthew 8:12, 22:13; Revelation 19:9; Proverbs 21:13. 3See the context of this reading, verses 3-10, in the Jerusalem Bible.
Have possessions, or the desire for them, separated me from the poor? How?
Initiative:Make contact with the poor. Go where they are and serve them in some way.