HOMILY – SEPTEMBER 25
Oh, the prophet Amos takes on the fat cats in the first reading, doesn’t he? No good reviews at the country club after THAT sermon! You know, he’s not blaming people just for being rich. He’s blaming them for living only for themselves, the ones who have not a thought for anyone else. And Jesus points out that same kind of blind heartlessness to others in need, in his parable of the rich man and the poor man.
Look at the details. The poor man sits at the rich man’s door. He sees how the rich man lives and he longs to go dumpster diving, just to get a taste of the garbage. A man could live off the rich man’s GARBAGE! Let’s be honest about it: no matter how poor you might be, you must know that by the standards of the rest of the world, you and all of us are so rich that the rest of the world could live on our garbage. Just the food thrown out by our restaurants every night could easily feed anyone in our own country who hasn’t had a square meal, and care for a good portion of the rest of the world besides. And I’m not talking about the waste of individual diners. I’m talking about the institutional waste, the food restaurants have to throw away because of mistaken orders or oversupply, the food that hasn’t been touched, but that absurd health regulations won’t let employees or anyone else take home or give away.
Because we live in a society which most of the world considers rich, there’s not much we can do to change their opinion of us. But opinions don’t count; ACTIONS do. There ARE people in our country who are scandalously and obscenely wealthy, who live only for themselves, who spend so much and consume so much that it almost defies description. Don’t be like them, and don’t compare yourselves to them. So many people waste their time saying, “Well, rich people do bad and outrageous things, so that gives ME the right to do bad and outrageous things.” No, no. Look at all the people who decide to riot and loot and destroy the businesses of hard-working people, to “get back” at – at WHOM? At WHAT? I remember talking to a poor lady on my mail route 50 years ago, around the corner from the smoking ruins of a grocery store that had been firebombed and looted in the riot the night before. She said, “NOW what am I going to do? I don’t drive, and that was the only grocery store I could walk to?” Gee, that riot really accomplished a lot. The rioters and looters really “got back.” But who lost out?
Jesus talks a longer, more eternal view. He doesn’t suggest that the poor man in the story should pick up rocks and throw them through the rich man’s window. The Gospel rather clearly indicates that GOD’S brand of justice has that longer, eternal view: the poor man got HIS, and now you, the rich man, are gonna get YOURS. Jesus doesn’t indicate that God enjoys this. Even Abraham speaks from his eternal glory and calls the suffering rich man, “My son.” We discover that the rich man even knows the poor man’s name, and probably has, all along. But Lazarus doesn’t get all huffy and cry out, “Oh, sure, you literally walked over me to get into your house all your life, never gave me a thing to help me, didn’t even act like you SAW me, and NOW you know my name!!” But Lazarus doesn’t say a word.
Oh, we love to see others get their come-uppance. The thought of seeing all those sinners (which never includes US, of course!) frying in hell somehow does our hearts good. But stop. Remember that so many people around the world who are hearing this Gospel, this weekend, our fellow believers, THEY are thinking of US. Some of them might be secretly gloating, thinking of the fate of rich, selfish Americans. And if WE are serious about OUR faith, we can’t be fazed by that. Just because others resent or even hate us is never a reason to turn the tables on them. We ought to respond to legitimate criticism (and even ponder UNJUST criticism) in such a way that we are always open to and ready to improve and grow in virtue and charity. Few of us individually have the opportunity to address global problems of poverty on a global scale. But unlike the rich man in the Gospel, we CAN start with the poor man at our door. Often we do that best by joining others in the community in supporting our own local services that help poor people in concrete ways: our food pantry and clothing center, God’s Kitchen, St. Vincent de Paul, Home Repair Services, Habitat for Humanity, the missions that provide a place for people to stay, and so on.
Being rich is not necessarily a blessing, being poor is not necessarily a curse. Each state of life has its own challenges, because the greatest challenge of all is to put yourself and use everything you have in the service of God and your neighbor. You don’t have to stop enjoying good Festival food or stop going on vacation. But you CAN be alert every day to the poor man at the door, and then make a good decision about the best way to walk home WITH HIM to the kingdom of heaven to meet the Lord together.