Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 26C
If you’ve ever spent much time in a larger city, you’ve probably seen people begging on the streets. Very often for people visiting Rome, seeing beggars on a regular basis is a new experience. But even here in Sioux Falls, I’ve heard that the Bishop Dudley House and St. Vincent de Paul Society have revealed a level of poverty that many of us are unaware of, so close to home. For most of us who have a roof over our heads, food to eat every day, more than one set of clothing, and access to medical care, it’s easy to see that we have much more in common with the unnamed rich man in today’s Gospel rather than with the poor man Lazarus. It might be that the Gospel doesn’t give a name to the rich man precisely because it could be any one of us. If you aren’t challenged by today’s Gospel, then you probably weren’t listening very closely.
When both Lazarus and the rich man die, they essentially trade places, receiving in the afterlife the opposite of what they had received during their life on earth. And it doesn’t say that Lazarus did anything really great to deserve this or that the rich man did anything extraordinarily bad. After they die, Abraham simply says to the rich man, “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.” This reversal is a common theme in the Scriptures. God comforts the afflicted but afflicts those who are comfortable and complacent. St. Luke includes with the Beatitudes of Christ the Woes that He pronounces as well, among them, “Woe to you who are rich now, for you have received your consolation.” If God gave us the same offer of reversal at the end of our lives, where do you think most of us would end up? In this life, are we among those who enjoy their wealth, who dine sumptuously and have lots of expensive clothing, and all the latest gadgets and toys? Or are we among the poor and afflicted ones of the earth, waiting for the salvation of our God?
How do we live differently as Christians in today’s world? Do we live differently? If someone from the outside would look at what we own, how we spend our money, the vacations we take, the things that we throw away, would they be able to tell that we are followers of the poor man, Jesus of Nazareth? What difference, concretely, does the Gospel make in our lives, in our desires for the latest and greatest, in our frenzy to keep up appearances, or in our efforts at self-denial? Do we include God in the conversation about what we really need and what we want, about our next purchase and whether God might be aware of more pressing needs at our doorstep that we have overlooked?
During Lent, most of us practice self-denial to some extent, but during the rest of the year, what are we doing to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Christ? Many are not aware of this, but every Friday, throughout the year, Catholics are still required to practice some sort of self-denial or penance, to offer some sacrifice in honor of Christ, who suffered and died on a Friday. It doesn’t have to be abstaining from meat anymore, as it still is during Lent, but each and every Friday we should be doing something to conform our lives to the Cross of Christ. Just as every Sunday throughout the year is a little Easter as we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, so also every Friday is to be a little Lent as we unite ourselves to the sufferings of Christ.
So what is God calling us to do, to simplify our lives, to rid ourselves of the excess so that we can more readily help those in genuine need, to be less indulgent when it comes to our food, drink, wardrobe, recreation and technology, to conform ourselves to the mystery of the Cross and the poor man from Nazareth? May God do whatever it takes to shake us from our complacency before we face Him in judgment, and give us the grace to deny ourselves so that we will be able to indulge our brothers and sisters in need, that when God casts down the mighty and lifts up the lowly at the end of time, we may be among those He raises on high.