September 25, 2016
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus said to the Pharisees: “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. 20 And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs used to come and lick his sores.”
22 “When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in the water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’
25 “Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. 26 Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’
27 “He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, then they will repent.’ 31 Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”
In last week’s gospel, Jesus told the parable of the shrewd steward who reduced the debt of his master’s debtors. That gospel ends with Jesus telling the disciples “No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You can not serve both God and mammon.” (Luke 16:13) In the verses that follow that text, Luke records three short teachings of Jesus. Following those teachings, Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus that is the text for this week.
The gospel texts for last week and the Sunday before (the parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and Lost Son) offer the reader a window into the culture of the day. In that culture, the material world was understood to be limited, and distributed according to God’s plan. An unexpected surplus was not to be hoarded or even saved for a time of need, it was to be redistributed instead to others in need. There was also a suspicion that unaccounted-for prosperity might actually be the property of another, gotten through trickery or some other inappropriate manner. The shepherd and the widow gather the community to help celebrate the finding of the lost items, but also to make sure everyone knows that it is their own lost property that has been found.
This attitude toward temporal possessions was supported in their understanding of their relationship to Yahweh. They were Yahweh’s chosen people. It was not as an individual but as a people that they enjoyed the favor of Yahweh. Thus inherent in their relationship with Yahweh was the responsibility to use the gifts of God not just for oneself but for the welfare of all. Thus the need to care for the poor, the widow, and the stranger was not out of compassion, but out of the right use of God’s gifts. Part of the scandal of the prodigal son is that he goes off to a foreign land to squander the wealth of his father, which is also the wealth that was given to the community by Yahweh. How one used one’s possessions was more important in this society than accumulating them. Situations like being a widow or an orphan left one in dire need, but they were not understood to be permanent conditions. The individual and the community each had a role to play in changing the situation. The widow could marry again, and the community had a responsibility in finding her a husband. Think of the seven brothers who married the same woman. (Matthew 22:24-25)
The parable itself is worth a few comments. Central to the parable is reversal of roles. The two men live lives that could not be more opposite. When death comes, the statuses are still polar opposites, but they are now reversed. In the first part, Lazarus is described as lying at the gate of the rich man. He is not a leper, since he is permitted inside the city, but his condition is so dire that scavenger dogs lick at his sores. But he is not begging, he is not trying to change his situation, nor is he inviting the rich man to respond to his situation. He is ritually unclean, but more importantly, he is unclean in the reality of his existence. Lazarus’ state is totally deplorable. The rich man for his part is described as totally decadent. His house, his clothing, and his daily table are like those of an important feast. There is so much food that even the scraps that fall to the floor would be sufficient to satisfy Lazarus’ hunger.
Lazarus’s situation is so deplorable that people of the day might easily assume that his situation is the result of being cursed by God for sins that he or one of his ancestors committed. The true reality is revealed in the second part of the parable. Both men are known to Abraham, they are both part of God’s chosen people. Both share in God’s covenant, and that covenant creates a relationship between them. But the rich man had ignored that relationship and its responsibility. The fact that he can name Lazarus (Luke 16:23) indicates that he recognizes him and is aware of his presence at his gate. In death, their positions are reversed, but the distance between them continues. “Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.” (Luke 16:26)
1. Are you aware of times when your personal wealth or lack of it has been a barrier in your relationship with another?
2. Are there times when your personal wealth has helped you cross barriers and enter into relationships with others?
3. Do you know people who are particularly good at forming relationships across barriers that might separate people? What about them seems to permit that to happen?
4. What is the most difficult barrier for you to cross in your relationships with others? What happens to you when you let the barrier be more powerful than your desire to cross that barrier?
5. Do you believe that all creation comes from God, is sustained by God, and will return to God?
6. Do you believe that in the next life those who have suffered in this world are more likely to find God’s favor in heaven?
7. Have you ever talked to God about your hopes and/or fears of life after death?
8. When you hear Abraham describe the great chasm that separates Lazarus and the rich man, what happens within you? Are you aware of chasms in your life?
9. Abraham addresses the rich man as “my child.” What does that say to you?
10. What are the values that the rich man lives by in the parable? What are the values that the poor man lives by in the parable? What are the values that Abraham manifests in the parable?
11. When you hear this gospel, what desires are brought to your awareness? How can you act on them?
On Wednesday of each week, the Gospel and reflection questions are posted at the following link: http://il-ritiro.org/gospel-reflections.aspx. You are invited to share your own reflection and comments with others at this website.
The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To be added to the distribution list, send your name and email address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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