The path toward salvation runs through the back alleys of the poor and downtrodden. The road to righteousness winds, not through scenic hills and bountiful valleys, but through the mean streets of poverty and oppression. It is the stranger, the immigrant, the outcast and the shunned who will lead us to the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven.
We all want to get to heaven. That’s why we come to church, isn’t it? We don’t come to Sunday or even daily Mass because we have nothing better to do. We live in hope! We live in the belief that by coming to church we are living virtuous, faith-filled lives - that will lead us into God’s promise of Life Eternal in His Kingdom. And, in coming together in church to worship and praise God is certainly a fitting way of living out a part of our call to live good Christian lives, but there is an additional message in today’s readings, especially in Amos, the Psalm and in the Gospel.
Amos begins with a list of the benefits of the good life enjoyed by the rich.
- They have fine housing filled with comfortable furniture.
- The rich have food and drink in abundance.
- They have cosmetics and healthcare to adorn them and keep them looking well and attractive.
- The rich have time for entertainment and diversion from the boredom of life.
- Their busy, important lives are too busy and important to be bothered by the plight of the poor.
- They, who have no care or concern for anyone, but themselves, will be the first to suffer the pains of loss and banishment from the joys of the heavenly kingdom.
Jesus continues this theme of our call to care for the poor so we too may enter the kingdom of God. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, he gives us a very vivid picture of the contrasts between the rich and the poor. This is a story set in ancient times, but just as relevant in today’s world.
Here is a rich man, an over-consumer, who wears the finest of clothing in the latest style: a person who never wants of anything and has more than he needs. He doesn’t just eat a meal – he feasts! – Sumptuously! – Everyday! I am sure we can all easily conjure up a mental picture of what this man looks like and how he acts in life – arrogant, self-indulgent and filled with his own importance.
Meanwhile, at his gate, lying in the dust of the road is Lazarus. Here a very different picture comes to mind from Jesus’ description: A poor man, dirty, nearly naked, repulsive; covered in sores, hungry to the point of starvation. Even the stray dogs that Lazarus competes with for food scraps come to lick the sores that cover his weak and worn body. There is no one - lower, - poorer or - more outcast than Lazarus. Even when he dies, there is no mention of his having the dignity of being buried, like the rich man.
Now, in death, we see the fruits of a life turned inward; a life of self-concern. The rich man, who ignored poor Lazarus, finds himself in torment in Hades. Amid the flames now consuming the riches he surrounded himself with in life, he calls out for mercy and consideration. In his still present arrogance, he directs Abraham to send Lazarus to relieve his torment – unlike how he relieved the torments of Lazarus in life.
Abraham tells the rich man that Lazarus, who received all bad things in his life, now rests in the comforting embrace of Abraham and because there is a great divide between their eternal worlds, Lazarus, even if he wanted, could not cross over to relieve the rich man’s agonies.
Still filled with himself, the rich man then instructs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn the rich man’s brothers of the fate that awaits them for their lives of selfish indulgence; lives of not caring for the poor.
Abraham tells him that they already have such a warning - in the scriptures - and in the teachings of the prophets, the messengers of God. They only need to listen. If they fail to heed the message they have already been given, then they will not listen to another messenger, even one who has risen from the dead.
Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” The poor are our constant reminder to love one another, as Jesus loves us. His care and concern for the outcast, the sinner, the poor, the hungry and voiceless is the message Jesus leaves for us: To love our brothers and sisters – all God’s children, especially those in most need, as we are loved. Jesus’ message for all of us to heed is: Love the poor and care for them as we love and care for Jesus. ~Amen.
Deacon Don Ron