29 September 2019

We've been warned

Audio File

26th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

All rich people go to hell when they die; and all poor people are whisked off to heaven by angels at death. Right? Rich people go to hell b/c they are rich, and poor people to heaven b/c they are poor. God hates the rich, and loves the poor, so this must be the case. . .just as our story this morning shows us. BUT our story this morning shows us no such thing. So, why does the rich man end up in hell and Lazarus in heaven? Abraham tells the rich man to remember that he – the rich man – received what was good in his lifetime and Lazarus received what was bad. Again, this doesn't seem quite right. Are we punished or rewarded for what life gives us (good or bad), or for what we have done or failed to do? The key to this parable is to start with the ending. The rich man begs Abraham to send someone to warn his brothers about hell. Abraham says that that have Moses and the Prophets to warn them. The rich man says that if someone they know is dead would appear and warn them, they would listen. Abraham, giving us the meaning of the parable says, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.” Why is the rich man in hell? He did not listen to Moses and the Prophets.

And since he did not listen to Moses and the Prophets, he failed to do all that God had asked him to do as a man abundantly blessed. Now, the obvious question: what did Moses and the Prophets tell the rich man – and everyone else in the Jewish world – to do? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, free the oppressed, tend the widow and orphan; and honor and obey the Lord your God. In other words, those who have been most blessed by the Lord are obligated in turn to bless those who have not been so blessed. St Paul adds a few additional elements to these commands, writing, “you, man of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. . .I charge you before God, who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus. . .to keep the commandment without stain or reproach. . .” Which commandment? To love God and neighbor as Christ loves us. God abundantly gifted the rich man and he failed to abundantly gift those who had nothing. This principle applies to material blessings as well as spiritual blessings. If you have been blessed with material and/or spiritual gifts, you are obligated – in the name of Christ – to share those blessings.

This whole Sharing the Blessings Thing is part of God's plan for salvation. This isn't about social justice or political equality or economic fairness. It's about your salvation and your growth in holiness. God the Father breathed over the void. He breathed the Holy Spirit, speaking one Word: Christ. The creation of the universe in Christ and its recreation in his sacrifice tells us that the diffusion, the sharing of goodness, truth, and beauty is fundamental to how God made us and intends to bring us back to Him made perfect. The rich man is given much so that he might effect his salvation in giving more. Lazarus is given heaven b/c he suffers now from having so little. Both men have the same chance to attend the wedding feast, but only one perfects his gifts on earth – Lazarus. You and I have been given the greatest gift possible: forgiveness of our sins, freedom from sin and death. Do you share this gift? Do you bear witness – out loud – to the fact that you have been reborn in water and spirit to life everlasting? I could ask as well: do you freely share the material wealth you have been given? Make no mistake. Nothing we have or are belongs to us. All of it, everything belongs to Christ. And he is telling us: give it away. Spread it around.

We are at best temporary keepers of what we have and who we are. To believe otherwise is to believe that there is something or someone more fundamental than our commitment to Christ. And if there is someone or something more fundamental to you than your commitment to Christ, then that is who or what you will become at death. The rich man withheld his riches from Lazarus and died to eternal torment. He hoarded all that God had given him, and found himself deprived of the wedding feast. By his choice. It may sound like a threat now or a punishment later, but it is actually a consequence of how he chose to live. Had he listened – truly obeyed – the words and deeds of Moses and Prophets, he and Lazarus would have shared a feast at the table of the Lord. Our job as followers of Christ is to spread the Father's blessings far and wide. Whether those blessings are material or spiritual, we are charged with the sacred duty of making sure that no one goes physically or spiritually hungry. That everyone with ears to hear and eyes to see meets Christ in our person. We are here this morning to receive the gifts of Christ and then leave here, sowing those gifts like seeds.


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