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The 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 29, 2019

    Any way you look at it, the readings for the past two or three months have been something of a full court press. Today’s are no exception.

     The prophet Amos sets the stage and the tone. Amos was prophesying during the long reign of King Jeroboam. It was a time of great economic prosperity for the kingdom of Israel.  Not unlike our time, the wealthy had become super-wealthy and were living luxurious lifestyles miles ahead of the poor.  Along with their high living came a kind of moral blindness, a selfish isolation, and a steady collapse of moral standards.  The great commandments of God’s Law about practicing justice and caring for the poor, the widows, and the orphans were all but forgotten.  The rich grew richer and the poor grew poorer. 

     That’s the context for today’s passage from Amos where we heard him railing against the comfortable and the complacent, “lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches…drinking wine from giant goblets and anointing themselves with the best oils.”  Later in the prophecy, Amos will issue a stern warning that those who amass their fortunes and balance their books on the backs of the poor will one day be held to account by God.

     The reading from Amos was perfectly paired with the parable that Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus. Did you notice that the poor man of the parable has a name – Lazarus - but the rich man goes nameless.  This is surprising because, whose name do you know better, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, or the beggar on the street corner?  We tend to know the rich person’s name, don’t we?  The poor one’s?   Maybe not so much.  But in Jesus’ parable, it’s the poor man who has a name while the rich man goes unnamed. There has to be a message there – not that the poor are more important than the rich; no, but the message could be that the poor, who often go nameless, do, in fact, have names and maybe we ought to get to know them.

     It’s worth noting, too, that in the parable, it’s from the rich man that we learn the poor man’s name. “Father Abraham,” he said, “have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering in these flames.” The sad thing is that it was only after he died that the rich man actually used Lazarus’ name. When he was alive, while Lazarus lay in misery at his door, the rich man didn’t bother with his name. He looked the other way. And we’re left wondering if the rich man had bothered to call Lazarus by name, would he have come to regard him as a brother, a fellow human being, and not just as ‘that beggar!’  We don’t know. All we do know is that his ignoring of Lazarus had more than passing consequences. It had eternal consequences.

     My friends, this story touches us in a most personal way. Many of us are that rich man. I know I am. I thought of that when I read a story in the Times this week that only two major cities in this country have a higher median income than Seattle. So, this parable is timely. And many of you take it very much to heart. You do. You not only don’t ignore the Lazarus you meet on the street, you actually go out to meet him, or her, and you do everything you can to minister to Lazarus as you volunteer at the winter shelter, the Cathedral Kitchen, the Solanus Casey Center, the St. Vincent de Paul Society; the Immigrant Assistance program, the mental health ministry, or you make sandwiches for the homeless. You call Lazarus by name and you minister to him.

     And some of you who are blessed with considerable means and who might be expected to line up with the rich man of the parable, are not at all like him. You are aware of the plight of Lazarus. You don’t look the other way. Instead, you very intentionally commit significant resources to reach out to him.

     But Lazarus is not only at our personal doorstep, he is also at the world’s doorstep. There is a global Lazarus. No one has been more outspoken about this than Pope Francis. On his trips around the world he has made it a point to personally witness the tragic plight of thousands of migrants and refugees fleeing war, terrorism, and poverty, and he has challenged the world community to reach out to these suffering brothers and sisters with aid and asylum and hospitality. But as you know, his is not a very popular message among some. It’s highly controversial. And from more and more world leaders, including, sadly, our own, instead of hospitable and welcoming words, we are hearing exclusionary words, harsh and heartless words, words calculated to stir up fear – fear of the other, fear of the foreigner, fear of Lazarus.

     We should be grateful for Pope Francis. For him, this is about morality, not politics. To quote him: “These are our brothers and sisters, they are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity, they are not disposable. Their cry rises up to God. We must find ways to welcome them….”

     My friends, I’m aware of the complexity of this issue. I read and watch the news as you do. But welcoming the stranger and reaching out to people fleeing for their lives is basic humanity and it’s in our DNA as Christians – from as far back as the Holy Family’s Flight into Egypt. And in the swirl of overheated rhetoric, as we form our consciences about what is the right thing, the moral thing, with regard to immigrants and refugees, we will do well to keep the teaching of Pope Francis in mind and to remember that they want the same things we do, the same thing our parents and grandparents wanted when they came to this land: safe haven for themselves and their children: freedom, food, shelter, medical care, a way to make a living, a place to call home. 

     My friends, Lazarus is at our door. And it matters mightily whether we care for him or her. It matters now and it matters eternally!

Father Michael G. Ryan
 

 

 

 

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