By Deacon Jerry Franzen – Cathedral - September 26, 2010
Amos 6: 1a, 4-7 1 Timothy 6:11-16 Luke 16:19-31
Amos brought God’s word to the Israelites:
“Woe to the complacent of Zion,” the couch potatoes on beds of ivory,
dining on the finest of the lambs and the calves,
drinking wine by the bowl,
anointing themselves with expensive oils,
and not caring about the collapse of Joseph.
They would be the first in exile
and their comforts and excesses would be done away with.
This was a rather discouraging message for the listener.
And Luke tells us of the parable Jesus presented to the Pharisees:
The rich man was oblivious to the poor man, Lazarus,at his door;
Lazarus was poor, covered with sores
and starving for the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.
The rich man did nothing for Lazarus and was condemned to hell.
In hell, he couldn’t even get a drop of water to cool his tongue;
He couldn’t get any extra help for his sinful brothers either .
I can’t imagine that the Pharisees were thrilled to hear this parable.
Another discouraging message.
Just the other evening,
I was meeting with the seven deacons
ordained this past April in this diocese.
Msgr. Neuhaus and I are conducting
a practicum in preaching for them.
We were having our first meeting
and I was going over some general principles.
One of them was: “Preach the Good News.”
As deacons we should never loose sight of our charge
to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Today’s readings present quite a challenge for this deacon!
Where is the Good News?
Woe to the complacent, those with all of the comforts,
those who are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph.
“Joseph” here is a word used to represent the Israelite nation.
Some did not care about what was happening to their nation,
as long as they could revel in their own comforts.
Amos was presenting a stern warning from God:
Straighten up or your revelry will come to a swift end
as you will be the first taken into exile.
Could this have been the exile of hell? Maybe.
Jesus aimed his parable directly at the Pharisees,
And he did that for a reason.
They were like the rich man only caring about themselves.
The rich man didn’t even see Lazarus at his door.
The Pharisees didn’t acknowledge those who were not like them.
The Pharisees only saw themselves.
Jesus was showing them that if they continued
in their self-righteous practices,
they would meet the same fate as the rich man;
they would be condemned to hell for all eternity.
There would be no way back.
The self-righteousness, the better than thou attitude, of the Pharisees,
would lead to the finality of hell,
for the divide between heaven and hell is to large to be crossed.
When the rich man did finally see Lazarus,
he was in heaven, in the arms of Abraham, but it was too late.
Jesus did not want the Pharisees
to meet the same fate as the rich man in the parable.
I’m sure he hoped that they would change after hearing the parable.
We are hearing this,
because God doesn’t want us to meet that same fate.
We must not be so tied up in our possessions and comforts
that we lose sight of those in need around us.
It is very easy to lose sight of our responsibilities
to our brothers and sisters.
We think that we need every penny that we own;
we worked hard for every cent.
We can’t afford to contribute to the DPAA, to Catholic Charities,
to Care Net, to the New Hope Center
or other agencies that serve the needy.
At times we may be too preoccupied with ourselves,
too possessive of what we have
to share what we have with those in need.
And the parable tells us that this can be a very serious matter.
The parable tells us that it can lead to hell.
Some may have decided that there really is not a hell,
that “hell” is an outdated concept.
I think that the words of the Gospel are pretty clear.
Furthermore,our care for others
can clearly extend beyond the monetary.
It could be: “Oh! I’m too busy to care
about helping my daughter with her homework.” or
“I don’t need to hear your sad stories, I have enough of my own.”
Yes, these readings are about our caring for others,
about our giving of ourselves for others.
And it is clearly a serious matter, directly related to our salvation.
I am especially intrigued by the latter part of the Gospel,
when the rich man asks Abraham
to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers
that they might not commit this same sin.
Abraham told the rich man that the brothers
had all the information they needed
in the Word of God, the law and the prophets.
All the brothers had to do was open their ears
to really listen to God’s Word.
The Pharisees had that same Word of God,
but their ears were closed to those parts about really caring
about others rather than themselves.
The reply of the rich man was,
“Abraham, you don’t understand, the brothers will listen
to someone who has returned from the dead.”
And Abraham’s response was,
“If the brothers will not listen to Moses and the prophets,
they will not be persuaded, if someone should rise from the dead.”
Jesus was telling the Pharisees that they also
would not be persuaded by God’s own Word,
which they highly regarded and
which they used selectively to justify their own self-righteousness.
The Pharisees took a blind eye
to those parts of the law and the prophets
which taught that they were to be charitable to others.
The Pharisees were so entrenched in their self-righteousness
that they would not even recognize
that a person had miraculously returned from the dead,
let alone be persuaded to change their thinking by such a person.
Here Jesus was predicting that the Pharisees
would not recognize His own resurrection.
And we? Are we like the Pharisees? In some ways, yes.
Because of original sin, we tend to focus on ourselves.
That is what Adam and Eve did;
they were convinced that they could be god (small “g”)
better than God could be God (capital “G”).
We enter the world with the same tendency.
But we are not condemned to hell immediately
for our self-centered sins of commission or omission.
Our redemption is at hand.
We too have the law and the prophets to guide us;
we must listen to them.
We also have the words, the advice, the counsel,
of a person who came to fulfill the law and the prophets,
a person who did in fact rise from the dead.
Therein lies the Good News of today and every day.
We may at times have the attitude of the Pharisees,
that we are better than others,
that we have the final word and it’s our way,
that we have it all figured out on their own.
This is the very type of attitude can lead us to hell,
but we are not condemned to that. We can rise above it.
By our baptism we receive the graces to overcome that attitude.
We become followers of him who rose from the dead.
If we truly follow Him,
if we love God with all our hearts, our minds and our souls,
if we follow the second commandment
to love our neighbors as ourselves,
and if we recognize our own sinfulness
and express our sorrow for our sins,
we will avoid the horrors of hell,
the torment of being forever separated from God.
We will then enjoy the everlasting life of heaven with God.
That is the Best News.