Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 25, 2022  

It was a common practice in the time of Jesus that when one was at table there was usually a common stew pot in which people would dip pieces of bread, bite off what they wanted and simply throw whatever was left on to the floor. The gospel today tells us that, “Lazarus, covered with sores…would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.”  It must be obvious by now to realize that the scrapes that fell from the table were deliberately thrown there. All those at table including the host would have been aware of the scrapes that littered the floor. It is in this context of a common practice of eating and the awareness of a poor man at his doorstep that the rich man was condemned to the netherworld. The prophet Amos in the first reading condemned such disregard in his day: “Woe to the complacent in Zion! Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches, they eat lambs taken from the flock, and calves from the stall!”

Jesus in telling this parable was in no way begrudging the rich man and those of his day who dressed in purple garments and fine linen. In telling this story Jesus used characters, which, his audience could readily identify with and for the most part could, ascertain the deeper meaning of the parable. The issue here was relational which points to the human person essentially as a social being. As the Church teaches: “Since the human person is created in the image of the Trinitarian God the human person is made for community. Our development as persons and the advance merit of society “hinge on one another.” This means that the human person ‘is alienated if he refuses to transcend himself and to live the experience of self-giving.’” 

The rich man certainly enjoyed his life, he probably entertained on a regular basis and in that sense, he was very social. Yet he was not self-giving. He must have been aware of Lazarus lying at his door, because from the “netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side” and preceded to call Lazarus by name. He not only knew of this poor man, he knew his name and yet it never occurred to him to intervene and to uplift a single poor man at his door. Certainly, the first lesson the rich man learnt too late was that of self-giving. Even if Lazarus was never invited to dip a piece of bread in the common stew pot at table at the very least what was discarded should have been given to him. For it would have shown that the rich man was aware of those least fortunate than himself.

Someone has said that God loves the poor, not because they are good, but simply because they are poor, where "poor" means deprived of what is necessary to live a fully human life. This sense of poverty is intolerable and as Christians we should not only be moved by it we should also recognize our moral obligation to ease the poverty of others. Certainly, the Church as an institution as done much over a number of generations to help the poor in our land and she continues to do so today. Never with the intention to make new converts but simply following the precepts of the gospel. 

And so, the lesson here for us is that we are to learn or be reminded of the importance of self-giving. To live at one’s full potential implies that one is self-giving. Simply put, we can only come to a deeper appreciation of what it means to be human and what it means to be loved in the context of others. There are many examples of self-giving and a couple examples that are signs of the strength of a society is that between husband and wife and parent and child. To live for oneself is never life giving, it only helps to diminish our humanity.  We have heard the saying earlier, God loves the poor, not because they are good, but simply because they are poor. Can we say also that God does not love the rich, not because they are bad, but simply because they are rich? No. What does "rich" really mean? Indeed, that rich man in the parable may have worked very hard to get his money, perhaps he was a good family man who loved his wife and was a good father to his children. Perhaps he went faithfully to the synagogue every Sabbath and observed all the regulations of the Sabbath day. He may have been seen as a very pillar of his community. long as that poor man lay uncared for at his feet, the rich man was totally condemned.  

The fact of the matter is that people want to be rich and prosperous, look how people buy lottery tickets and numbers. Many people work hard to achieve the lifestyle they desire and are rewarded for their hard work and dedication. But to be a good catholic, it is not enough to avoid the near occasions of sin or to remain free of mortal sin. We must be aware of the importance of justice and basic human need. When the first catholic missionaries arrived on these shores their main task was social outreach and education, they saw and met the basic human needs of the people. In so doing they preached the catholic faith through their actions. We follow in their steps when we recognize the needs of the poor. 

The rich man’s table was laden with every good food, this symbol of plenty points towards the kingdom of God but also to the altar of sacrifice where Christ is immolated and we receive his body and blood. Certainly, when we approach the altar we partake of the same body and the same blood because we are members of the one body which is Christ. The rich man could have responded on two levels to Lazarus, he could have simply provided for his basic needs by means of food and water and medical supplies. This is basic charity but it does not go deep enough in terms of gospel values. The second level would have been a mutual recognition of both men as each other’s brother. It would not matter that one was rich and the other poor, that one was more educated or sophisticated. What is important is that each man would see the need to care deeply for one another.

The ending of the gospel is a warning for all of us. At the end of the gospel, the rich man made the excuse (when it was too late) that he did not realize what was going on. His brothers did not realize either. Let them be warned, he pleaded. Even in hell, the rich man could still only think of his own family and not of all the others to whom he was responsible.

It would be no use warning them, Jesus said. They would not listen even if someone rose from the dead. Ironic words indeed. Jesus has risen from the dead 2,000 years ago and how many of us have taken in the message of the Gospel about wealth and poverty? Not a great many, it must be said. We have Moses and the prophets; we also have the words of Jesus and the wisdom of Mother Church.  You see, every time we approach the altar to receive the Eucharist we are enriched through the eternal sacrifice of Christ. In a very real sense we become rich because we take our place at table. The warning of Jesus in the gospel is for us, for we must show by our actions after having received the Eucharist that we are brothers and sisters to one another and that we are aware of the needs of the wider community. St. Paul tells us to “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.” These are hallmarks of the Christian who not only feed at the table of plenty but also share his bread with the poor. 

May we learn to prefer nothing to the love of Christ in order to show that same love to all we meet.  May we realize the dignity of every human person, the richness of our faith and come to a deeper appreciation of our place and obligation here in this life so as to be with God in the life to come.  


For comments and suggestions: Sacred Heart Catholic Church Web Team
Updated: September 25, 2022

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