Fr. Ver Bust's Column:|
"Explaining the Gospel"
|Fr. Richard Ver Bust
The responsibilities of God's people
Reach out to one another, for no one should face struggles alone
September 30, 2001, Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Amos' warning, "Woe to the complacent in Zion!" might be the key to what today's liturgy is teaching us. In many ways the lesson developed in Amos and Luke last week is continued this week. Both Jesus and Amos warned those last week who were attached to material things or made mammon their primary value that they could not also serve God. Discipleship is not a quick and easy thing. The choices we make effect our whole lives.
The familiar and challenging parable Jesus uses puts this into focus. The frequent presentation in the gospels of reversals is certainly emphasized. The person who had everything in this life finds himself in torment in the next life. The person, who suffered the indignity of being so poor and sick that dogs licked his sores, in turn, enjoys the wonders and happiness of heaven. So now we must see what Jesus was trying to teach in this parable.
The contrast between the earthly life of each of our characters is striking and complete. The first person has great wealth, lives in luxury, and has the best of food. He wears the garments of the rich, for purple clothing and linen are nothing but the best. Lazarus, one of the few persons, mentioned by name in a parable, lives a life of complete destitution. The name Lazarus, by the way, in Greek means "my God helps" so the irony is even greater. He would be considered totally unclean for unclean dogs lick his sores.
All of this leads to the second part of the parable in which the situation changes completely. Yet, we are not told why each ended up differently in the next life. Did Lazarus make it to heaven simply because he was poor? What had the rich man done to merit the fires of punishment? One author has suggested, as Amos teaches, the two were connected by a covenant. They had responsibilities for each other since they were both members of God's people. The rich man above all needed to be aware of what was happening to Lazarus. He ignored his responsibility and was the complacent person who lived in luxury as Amos preached.
It is interesting that the rich man even knows the name of Lazarus for he asks Abraham to have Lazarus help him. He knew who lay at his gate and has ignored him. In this new situation it is also important to notice that the rich man still thinks first of himself even before he calls for Lazarus to warn his brothers. He has ignored his religious traditions and doesn't think that it will help his brothers.
The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that we do not have to face our struggle and journey alone. The author visualizes for us a great crowd cheering us on. Using the metaphor of a race in a stadium he tells us that those who have preceded us in life are encouraging us to be faithful in running the race to the end. If our goal is to follow Christ than we must keep him ever before us as our model and acknowledge that he will always be with and for us.
(Fr. Ver Bust holds the title of professor emeritus in religious
studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)