September 27, 2013

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Amos provides this weekend’s first reading. The book itself states that it was written during the reign of King Uzziah of Judah, or between 783 and 742 BC. This was a time of tranquility and prosperity. No wars troubled the kingdom.

Even though conditions were calm, Amos strongly spoke against laxity in religion and morally careless living. It was not necessarily a denunciation of utter vice, but rather it denounced lukewarmness.

Of course, chief among his concerns was the sluggishness with which people practiced their religion.

All in all, Amos insisted, the situation was a sure recipe for trouble and even disaster.

St. Paul’s First Epistle to Timothy supplies the second reading for this weekend’s liturgy. Last weekend’s second reading also came from First Timothy.

Timothy was an early convert to Christianity. The epistles written to him, and now contained in the New Testament, assured his place in the tradition of the Church. As his life unfolded, he became a disciple of Paul and then a Christian leader in his own right, destined to be one of the major figures in the development of Christianity. This selection calls Timothy to virtue.

The epistles called him to diligence and dedication in following Jesus and in leading the community.

It was easy to be distracted from such faithfulness in the face of the glory, power, and excesses of the mighty Roman Empire. The epistle called Timothy to be resolute, citing the example of Jesus in the Lord’s trial before Pontius Pilate.

Despite the seeming power of Rome, the reading insists that God’s goodness and justice will endure, and that Jesus will come again in triumph and vindication.

St. Luke’s Gospel furnishes the last reading, as also was the case in last weekend’s Liturgy of the Word.

It is a parable, rather straightforward in its message. A rich man is enjoying all the benefits of financial success and well-being.

By contrast, Lazarus is desperately poor. He yearned to have the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.

In time, Lazarus died. Then the rich man died. As the rich man reached the hereafter, he realized that he himself was in great need, whereas Lazarus was being held close to Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people.

By this time, the once rich man is desperate. He pleads with Abraham for just a drop of water. Then the once rich man implores Abraham to send Lazarus back to Earth to warn the rich man’s brothers that they, too, will be punished unless they turn to God and forsake greed.

Abraham replies that messengers already have been sent, namely Moses and the prophets, and Moses and the prophets were ignored.

Reflection

At first glance, the readings, and especially that from Luke’s Gospel, seem to present a clear message. It is clear, but beneath it is another, stronger lesson. It is more than a question of not being greedy or unjust in commercial dealings. It is instead the lesson that Christians must judge earthly life by a standard that not often is embraced by humans.

It is the standard of putting everything secondary, or even irrelevant, in the process judging life except the belief that only the things of God are worthy of everything.

The story of the rich man and Lazarus is more than merely a coincidence about a person who has succeeded in the world and a person who has not succeeded.

At the time of Jesus, many thought that earthly riches showed that God had blessed the rich, whereas poverty and want indicated that there had been a great sin somehow in the background of the sinner.

Jesus totally debunks this notion. When we end our earthly lives, riches will mean nothing. †

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