26th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 25 September 2022 ~ Bible readings for Mass: I: Amos 6: 1, 4-7; Responsorial: Psalm 146; II: I Timothy 6: 11-16; Gospel: Luke 16: 19-31
Today in Scripture we see the Holy Spirit seeking to bring to us the power and graces of what is often referred to as social justice. This message has been recurring in recent weeks as God works to awaken in us this essential dimension of our faith. Unfortunately for some the words social justice are warning signs of a progressive agenda where traditions and roots of our faith are neglected or ignored in misguided efforts that can misdirect our energies away from the true worship of God to soup kitchens or issues of the needy and those on the fringes of life. Perhaps it may be helpful to set aside the well-used and often abused phrase of social justice and, instead use the two words: Just Love.
The Sword of the Holy Spirit, God’s Word for us today cuts to the heart of the issues of the poor, the outcast, and those rejected or ignored by anyone who denies the most basic elements of our faith in their attitude or response to those less fortunate. Our second reading from I Timothy makes very clear our faith, our religion is expressed not just in words but a devotion to God seen in faith, love, and patient gentleness. The portion from the Prophet Amos makes plain that the life of materialism and neglect of the struggles of life around one is intolerable for God. These readings are framed in the eloquent Psalm that proclaims the praises from our soul for God. Praise lived out in those who work to feed the hungry, free the oppressed, and seek justice for all. But it is in our Gospel that this lesson of Just Love is vibrantly shared.
Jesus shares the lesson of Lazarus the poor beggar who lives by the house of a very rich man. It is interesting to consider this is not identified as a parable. It may have been an actual account. And while the poor beggar is identified as Lazarus the rich, powerful man is not named. However one may choose to see this story it is clearly a lesson of life as it often is and how it should be. Our worth or our identity is nothing regardless of our material wealth or social standing. The initial audience for this lesson is the Pharisees. This was a group of profoundly religious people who lived their faith with intense rigor and devotion. Yet, like many, a people prone to disdain for those not living according to their standards or their approved lineage. It is a message that illustrates the neglect of humanity in sharing the holy simplicity of Just Love for the many Lazarus of life. But it is also a lesson of the ways of Just Love that may be overlooked.
There are two types of creatures in the story of Lazarus that show very clearly how simple and powerful Just Love can be. Lazarus is also a story of dogs and angels.
If we truly believe the Holy Spirit is the Author of God’s Word then we would do well to heed the dogs. It is shared how “Dogs even came and licked the sores of Lazarus”. This may gross some people out. But let us pay attention to what is happening. Lazarus was clearly a beggar in need of care, food, proper clothing, and shelter that would have been heaven-sent for this man. It is clear he also suffered from physical wounds and sickness. We may dismiss the dogs caring for him but we shouldn’t. They literally cleansed his wounds. They provided the medical care that people should have. The closeness, the touch, the warmth they offered again was witness to what was lacking by… people. The dogs did not judge Lazarus. They did not condemn him as a failure or took offense at his smelly rages and person. Dogs are simple but powerful lessons of Just Love. They are lessons not just for Lazarus time but for us today.
God will always seek to care for humanity even if and when humanity may fear or fail. Many are the accounts of holy men and women who found friendship, care, and help from the seeming lesser creatures in their quest for the ways of God, their quest for Just Love. If we listen and watch carefully, in faith we will realize that very often creation, animals, even plants may sense, see and worship God in ways beyond the norm for us humans. The Psalms and the saints have long affirmed this holy relationship that, when heeded, can bring us to grow in God, in Just Love.
Lazarus is a lesson in the failure of humanity in caring for, in loving our neighbors. But as it teaches us God’s mercy and intervention on earth it also shows us God’s care into eternity. As the sufferings of Lazarus ended and it was time to cross the threshold of eternity other holy creatures are introduced. The angels carried Lazarus to the bosom of Abraham. [The bosom of Abraham is an exciting example of the vast subject of spiritual geography, of the places of eternity to which we can only sense and seek to grow]. The focus, for now, is the journey across that threshold into eternity. For the faithful, for all seeking to grow in God’s Just Love, we can see that it is path upon which we are helped and carried. It may well be that it is where we might first fully realize the presence and help of our guardian angels.
The story of Lazarus and the rich man is a lesson immersed in the life and Spirit of God. It is as we heed the example of God’s lesser creatures we can grow in the freedom and holy fire of God that seeks to know and care for those in need. The homeless, the immigrants and refugees, and those seeking to live but are on the fringes of life and faith. It is indeed about the care of the physically needy and oppressed. But it is also about those longing for a place to call home, for their faith. It is about those wounded by the cruel selfish injustices of this world and yes, in the churches. Many are the hungry, wounded, and afraid who may be at our very doorway.
The Catholic Church in the United States has called for this to be a year of Eucharistic Renewal. Deep is the need for us to grow in our reverent devotion for God’s Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament. But if we are to truly grow in our faith and love for God’s Eucharistic Presence we must also be growing in our lives of Just Love.