26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Amos is the source of 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 B.C.
There are two ways of looking at conditions at the time. The two Hebrew kingdoms were at peace. Times were prosperous — at least for most.
Many were not so fortunate, and perhaps tranquility and ease had dulled in the people’s collective mind their sense of needing God. Along with this, apparently many were lax in their religious observances.
So, Amos rebuked them. He condemned the sluggishness in religion and morally careless living. It was not necessarily a denunciation of utter vice, but rather of lukewarmness and of living as if there were no tomorrow and no reckoning.
In the context of all the prophets, Amos saw in such circumstances clear signals that the society was weakening, and as it weakened, peril awaited.
St. Paul’s First Epistle to Timothy supplies the second reading. Timothy was an early convert to Christianity. As his life unfolded, he became Paul’s disciple and a Christian leader in his own right, destined to be one of the major figures in the development of Christianity.
The epistle calls Timothy to be resolute, citing the example of Jesus in the Lord’s trial before Pontius Pilate. Being distracted from such faithfulness was easy because everywhere was the glory, power and excesses of the mighty Roman Empire.
Despite all 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. It is a parable, rather straightforward in its message. The picture vividly presents a setting for the message of the parable.
A rich man is enjoying all the benefits of financial success and well being. By contrast, Lazarus is desperately poor. He has nothing. He is hungry. He yearns to have the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.
In time, Lazarus dies. Then the rich man also dies. As the rich man reached the hereafter, he realized that now 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.
This end to the story is thought-provoking. Abraham replies that messengers already have been sent, namely Moses and the prophets, and Moses and the prophets were ignored. People can wreck their lives and their eternal lives. Their doom is their choice. It is not God’s fault.
The readings, and especially that from Luke’s Gospel, are clear, teaching a lesson. It is more than a question of not being greedy or unjust in commercial dealings. Rather, Christians must judge earthly life by a standard that not often is embraced.
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.
The Christian standard is to put everything secondary, or even irrelevant, in judging life. Only the things of God are worth living, or dying, for.
The story of the rich man and Lazarus is much more than merely about a person who has succeeded in the world and a person who has not succeeded.
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