26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Text: Amos 6:1, 4-7; Psalm 146:7-10; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31.
Here at St. Joe’s, we say that all are welcome, but Jesus tells us of a great gulf fixed between the rich man in Hades and heaven to stop anyone from crossing over.1 Are we more welcoming than God?
To unravel this question, we might start at the rich man. In life, he ignored Lazarus, stepping over him at his gate every time he went in and out without so much as a word. In death, it seems he is no different: he doesn’t see Lazarus as a worthwhile person, addressing Abraham, who is much more prestigious, and begging him to send Lazarus as one would a servant or slave. Even stripped of all the wealth that made him seem great in life, he refuses to acknowledge his kinship with each and every person, regardless of their apparent station.
In God, there is “no more distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all … are one in Christ Jesus.”2 Anyone who insists on preserving such distinctions cannot join in that unity, because they themselves refuse it. Lazarus and Abraham are equals in Heaven. The story doesn’t tell whether the rich man’s exile, like the Jews’ in Amos’ time, is temporary, and so whether he ever finds his way to that fundamental truth and joins Lazarus and Abraham; it’s my hope that eventually, all do, but I can’t claim to be sure.
Purgatory is a doctrine which expresses that hope: that even though we may be unable to join in the ultimate Communion at the moment when we die, there remains some way for us to be purified thereafter. It may not be easy or pleasant, and so Jesus warns us of suffering in the afterlife in order to encourage us to make ourselves ready in this world. God created this world and gave us this life for a reason; perhaps it is because it is easiest to learn these things here, even though, as the Catechism points out, even after death, “God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance.”3 As Peter writes, God wants “nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to change [their] ways.”4
So where do I fit in? I drove here in my own car from my townhouse out in Kanata; neither is particularly luxurious when compared against those of rock stars or NHL hockey players, but they’re certainly enough for my wife and me to get by. I’m closer to the rich man than to Lazarus: at first glance, I’m pretty self-sufficient. That self-sufficiency is one of the great dangers of wealth: I don’t need to look to my sister or my brother, and so may be tempted to ignore them in their need. In a word, I may become, like the Jews Amos was addressing, complacent. Paul warns Timothy against this complacency too, telling him to avoid concern with wealth and to “fight the good fight”.5 Someday, material wealth will either be torn away—ask those who have lost everything in war or economic collapse—or will be worthless anyway, and the security of wealth will be revealed as an illusion.
In one way, the fight can be easy: Lazarus doesn’t ask for half of the rich man’s wealth, or even a small share of it; he “longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.”6 Surely we can at least accommodate that, and give what we have left over, what we wouldn’t even miss? This parable doesn’t even ask us to give all we have, like the widow giving her only coins at the Temple7 or the rich man Jesus asked to give all he had to the poor and follow him.8 All we have to do is recognize and acknowledge the person on our doorstep, and give what we don’t need.
Our doorstep, however, has gotten bigger over the centuries, as we have the means to be aware of and influence people all around the world. I am faced not only with the need of the homeless person asking for spare change on the MacKenzie King Bridge, but also with the needs of the underpaid worker in Malaysia, the war orphan in Somalia, the displaced native in Brazil. I’ve run out of scraps. I could give everything I have a thousand times over, and not even make a dent in the need that confronts me. The fight is harder now, because I am called to acknowledge all these people for whom I can do so little. Yes, we make a difference collectively, notably through Development and Peace, but more always remains; there will always be poor people.9 It’s tempting to turn away10 like the rich man in the story, isn’t it?
Yet, it is through awareness that we change what we do and who we are. I won’t presume to direct anyone in the specifics of the call that awareness will awaken in you; I have a hard enough time hearing and understanding my own, and your calling is probably different from mine anyway. I can only keep my ears open, and trust that God speaks to me in each person, including and sometimes especially the poor—that this is how God “whom no human has seen and no human is able to see”11 is revealed. Through this, we are each and all called to share and to participate in God’s all-embracing love.
1: Luke 16:26
2: Galatians 3:28
3: Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994), Article 2283.
4: 2 Peter 3:9
5: 1 Timothy 6:12
6: Luke 16:21
7: Luke 21:2-4
8: Luke 18:22-23
9: Deuteronomy 15:11
10: Cf. Pink Floyd, “On the Turning Away”
11: 1 Timothy 6:16