26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Sept 25, 2022
A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Ryan who was five and Jordan who was three. They really liked the pancakes and began fighting over the last one. So, their mother saw this as a great opportunity to teach them a moral lesson.
She told both of them, “You know, if Jesus were sitting here, he’d say, ‘Let my brother have the last pancake.”
Ryan then turned to his younger brother and said, “Hey Jordan, you be Jesus.”
Ryan didn’t get the point of his mother’s moral lesson. Instead of choosing to be like Jesus, he preferred to be the recipient of his younger brother’s generosity. We see the same sort of dynamic being played out in today’s gospel where we’re being challenged to put on the mindset of Christ and to acknowledge our connection with all human beings, irrespective of their social or economic standing. One of the reasons Jesus recounts today’s story about Abraham, the rich man, and Lazarus is because he knows how easy it is to insulate ourselves from one another and to discount what we share in common by focussing instead, on what makes us different.
That’s what the rich man was doing, even in the afterlife! Rather than seeing Lazarus as a child of God, as a person made in the image and likeness of God, worthy of respect and honour, the rich man still sees Lazarus as his subordinate, as an outsider, a beggar, as one who should make his life easier and freed from any burdens of guilt or anxiety, rather than the other way around. Italians have a name for persons like this: Testa Dura! Hard heads! —Persons unwilling to change their minds and hearts —even when confronted with data to the contrary —- because they’re too focussed on themselves and their own needs, that they discount the needs of others.
Are we ever like the rich man? Do we insulate ourselves from those who are different from us and look the other way when we’d rather not be faced with the truth about a given person, group, or situation? Do we tend to judge those who are less successful than ourselves or who may be on the fringes of society as unworthy of our time and attention? Do we look down on others or make them feel as if they’re not loved or valued by ourselves or God? Do we blame others for their state in life and perhaps, even think that they’re getting what they deserve? Our answers to these questions can help us to discern whether we have any of the attitudes that landed the rich man in Hades!
But unlike him, it’s not too late for us! We can change and transform our attitudes and our perspectives and our manner of living. We can create opportunities to connect with those unlike us and find common ground. We can foster a greater respect for and sensitivity to those who are on the margins of society and be advocates of social change for them.
We can do this because God gave us an awesome record of his own intervention into human history— an inspired book we call the Bible. That’s why, when the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to warn his brothers about their harsh actions toward the poor, Abraham replies, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced, even if someone rises from the dead.” (Lk 16: 31) In other words, they shouldn’t need a resurrection from the dead to convince them to do the right thing. They’ve already been given a divine message from God, many times over, as to how they ought to conduct their lives on earth and how they should relate to those less fortunate than themselves. It’s described over and over again in the many stories handed down from generation to generation in the Bible.
Indeed, if we were to simply look for how many times God expresses his concern for the poor in the Bible, we’d find 135 instances in the Old Testament and 41 instances in the New Testament where God clearly shows a preferential option for the poor and stands on their side — far more than any other category of people in the scriptures! Thus, to say that Christians are impelled to hear the cries of the poor is an understatement. Not only must they hear their laments, they must respond with generosity and compassion, with solidarity and firm resolve.
Amos, in our first reading, is a prime example of a man of action. Living around 760 BC, Amos was a shepherd and fruit-picker from Judah. Despite his lack of education and lack of priestly heritage, God nevertheless calls him to be a prophet on behalf of the poor. Perhaps because Amos himself lived in poverty, he was the best mouthpiece to shed light upon what it’s like to be exploited by those in power and with authority. Perhaps because he himself was poor, people would listen to him more, because he knew what it was like to be trampled down upon and harshly treated. The Israel of Amos’ day had it all —increased prosperity, prestige, and strength. And yet, instead of using that strong starting point to lift everyone up, those in power did the exact opposite. They began neglecting the Word of God and worshipping pagan idols. They engaged in corrupt business transactions and usurped money from the poor for their own personal gain. They made the gulf between rich and poor greater and more pronounced. And God would have none of it!
Do each of us individually possess that same commitment to the poor, as God clearly and unequivocally expresses in his written Revelation to us in the Bible? That is a question we must honestly ask ourselves. As a parish community, we certainly do. We regularly serve the poor and those without food through the Minnow Lake Food Bank.
We regularly make donations to the pregnancy care centers, to the coats for kids’ program of the Knights of Columbus, to the L’Arche community, to the John Howard Society and Genevra House, and to the students enrolled in Barrydowne College. As a parish, we strive to address any need that comes our way, by not just providing temporary relief, but assistance in identifying the root causes of the problem, so that the cycle doesn’t continue to persist from generation to generation.
Our motivation for doing all of this is our love of God and our neighbour. Our motivation for doing all this is our belief in the innate dignity of every human being. Our motivation for doing all this is our belief that we’re not isolated islands, but a network of sinful people who have been, by the grace of God, redeemed with the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ poured out for us, and made inheritors of God’s everlasting Kingdom.
When we minister to someone who is poor then, we’re in fact, ministering to Christ himself. When we sacrifice our luxuries, our personal finances, our time, and our need to be noticed for the good we’re doing, in order to help someone who is poor, we give honor the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. When we keep the needs of the poor in our everyday consciousness, then no one is destined to fall through the cracks, left to their own resources and made to feel isolated and alone. When we realize that the poor are fundamentally, in all that matters, no different than ourselves, we start to empathize with them and begin to treat them as they truly are members of our own family of humanity. May we therefore give honor and praise to the Word of God by how we treat the poor and the marginalized. May we seek to build bridges of love, understanding, and kindness with all those who are different from us. And may we seek to unite, in one family of faith, all persons everywhere and to see everyone, as brothers and sisters of one God, who is Father and Lord of All.
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