Homily on the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 2, 2005
St. Agnes, Cincinnati
[Note: Although the homily was given on the 27th Sunday, it is based on readings for the 26th (Cycle C). The homilist prepared the wrong readings!]
(Based on Amos 6:1, 4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31)
“If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets they will not be convinced even if one should rise from the dead.”
Today’s readings from the Old Testament and the Gospel are a bit unusual, in that the connection between the two is more obvious than the case on many other Sundays. Both the readings are clearly focused on the great gap between the rich and the poor. It’s all about justice — and the wealthy come off badly in both cases.
It’s very contemporary, isn’t it? Our recent experience of the images from Katrina and Rita, who escaped and who couldn’t, remind us of our need to hear these passages. It appears that not much has changed over the centuries.
It’s all about justice. But we need to ask: is that all that it’s about? Is wealth and poverty and economic justice the whole point?
It would be easy for us to sit back smugly in church today and listen to the rich getting beat up. None of us here enjoys the kind of extravagant and outlandish wealth depicted in the two readings. We could settle back for once and listen to the Lord beating up on ‘the other guys.’ Not much need for this message for us, is there?
But something tells us the word of the Lord is never directed at only some of the community. It’s always aimed at the community as a whole, at you and me. At our need for growth and deepening our relation to the Lord.
So maybe we need to get beyond the surface meaning, to dig a little deeper to see how God might be calling us to deeper conversion.
The prophet Amos lived at a time when Israel was doing very well. The land was at peace and people were living high on the hog. The living was easy. And society was structured in ways that made it easy for those at the top of the ladder could take advantage of the little guy. Indeed it was an unjust social order.
But it turns out that Amos, though he castigated the rich stretched out on their ivory beds, was not focused just on the demands of social justice. He was reproving the people, not only for what they did, but much more importantly for why they were behaving so poorly. He was focused on the reason they could have become so complacent in this unjust situation. They had lost sight of the Covenant! They had forgotten their own story and what made them a people.
The God of the covenant makes no distinction on the basis of wealth or class or race or gender or nationality.
They had forgotten who they were as a covenanted people. They forgot where it all came from. They had blotted out the memory of their slavery in Egypt and the deliverance which came as a pure gift at the Lord’s hand. They took it all for granted, as if they had done it themselves. It’s not just about economics. It’s about denying their very identity as God’s people.
And in the parable told by Jesus in Luke’s gospel there is a similar thing going on. Remember, Jesus is addressing his words to the Pharisees, to people who had come to put all the emphasis on the externals, on doing everything right, by the book; on being justified by the legal and ritual purity of their actions.
It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t pay any attention to how the rich man got his wealth. The point is that he had allowed it to make him blind to what was really going on before his eyes. He didn’t even see the beggar he passed every day. He came to see himself as different. He lost sight of thes very identity he shared with Lazarus, who was flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone.
If we ever needed to be jolted out of our blindness, to be compelled to consciousness about what is really going on in the world we share, Katrina and Rita have surely hit us alongside the head. In much of the commentary on these events we are given the image of a ‘wake-up call.’ We need wake-up calls when we are in a deep sleep; unaware; blind and deaf.
It is so easy to become complacent when things are going OK for me, to put on blinders and not see, to lose our roots, our solidarity as brothers and sisters.
Through the story Jesus reminds the Pharisees of the wake-up calls they already enjoyed. Moses and the prophets should have been enough for them to be converted. If you don’t get the point even with such powerful messengers, will you ever get it?
You and I are also blessed with the revelations of Moses and the prophets. But much more importantly, we have been blessed with the presence and care and epiphany of the one they were seeking, the one they longed to see: Jesus the Christ raised from the dead. He says elsewhere “kings have longed to see what you see and have not seen it, to hear what you hear and have not heard it — the prostitutes and tax collectors will enter the kingdom before you.”
You know, it’s possible to become complacent with spiritual riches as well as with material ones. We can settle back and allow ourselves to be blinded to the reality we all share, our deepest common identity: we are all — without exception — mere creatures, not God; we are all — without exception — sinners; we have all — without exception — been lifted out of bondage to our self-centered ways by the totally unearned gift of God. In Christ there is neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, man nor woman — and neither white nor black, straight nor gay, Democrat or Republican. We are all one, if we could allow the Lord to remove our blindfold and let us see it.
We have been buried with the Lord and raised to new life. In Baptism we are admitted to an everlasting covenant — as a single people, not as atomized individuals.
In another place Jesus tells us to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It is a powerful challenge, and it has been greatly misunderstood over the centuries. People have made it a call to perfectionism, to a fulfilling of external forms and rituals without blemish. We need to remind ourselves of the context in which Jesus is speaking. He tells us to be perfect as his heavenly Father is perfect because he pours down rain upon the just and the unjust, the good and the bad alike.
As we pass the holy water font on entering this church each Sunday, let’s pause for a second to allow the Lord to remind us of the great dignity we share equally with our sisters and brothers. And then as we walk up the aisle to receive the Lord’s own life, let’s look around at those in the line with us. And ask to see, to know just who we are, because of who God is.