Our first reading also takes aim at the rich and comfortable. The prophet Amos thunders at those who sleep on elegant beds, eating the best of the flocks and herds, humming along with the harpist, and drinking wine by the bowlful.
Are we getting nervous yet? A scold-the-rich homily seems to be just the thing today.
But that’s not how I see it. Of course we’re being warned about the dangers of riches and the evils of ignoring the poor. But I also hear God speaking a different message in these readings, important to each of us, rich and poor alike.
Let’s start with the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. I said there’s a winner and a loser. But after thinking it over, I’m not so sure. Could both men be winners? Is it possible that the rich man might not have lost his eternal reward?
Take a careful look at the second thing the rich man asks for from Abraham. First, of course, he wants relief for himself; his tongue is parched by the flames. But when this is denied, he doesn’t argue or plead. He makes a second request: that his brothers be warned to avoid his fate.
Amidst the fires of hell, the rich man shows concern for the salvation of his family. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus as a messenger of truth.
I’m no theologian, but I don’t think someone damned for eternity has that much goodness in him. I’m not a biblical scholar either, but I know that the same word was used for hell as we understand it today—the place of eternal punishment for sin—and for the netherworld to which Jesus descended after his crucifixion to set its captives free.
Might not the rich man have been one of those captives? Might his concern that others avoid his own mistakes have been his saving grace?
We’ll never know—it’s just a parable, a story, after all.
The point I’m making is that there’s something to be learned from the rich man and it’s a lot more subtle than not ignoring poor people lying at your gate. Frankly, I don’t think anyone here could be guilty of such callous contempt.
But how many of us have brothers and sisters who need to be warned about the consequences of sin? And how many of us take their spiritual situation half as seriously as the rich man did?
The first reading also takes a surprising turn, if we look closely. Alas for those who lounge on their couches, eat lambs from the flock and calves from the stall, and singing idle songs to the sound of the harp. Amos is describing the 1 per-centers of his day. He’s also nailing us who sit on good furniture, dine on lamb and veal, drinking good wine and listening to whatever we want to on Spotify.
We recognize all those creature comforts from our own lives. So maybe we’re the ones in trouble.
But wait. There was one item on the prophet’s indictment that I skipped over—the last one. Amos ends his list with those who “are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph.”
Amos began by warning “those who are at ease in Zion,” and laments the good life of prosperous Israelites. But it’s not their prosperity that’s the problem: it’s their lack of concern for the fate of the nation. Comfort and ease have dulled their thinking, and they don’t much care that the northern Kingdom of Israel, called the sons or the house of Joseph, is being ruined by infidelity and weakness.
The great sin that Amos is attacking is not living in luxury: it’s failing to notice what’s going on around you. The complacent and well-fed are not grieved over the deterioration of the nation; they’re comfortable enough to ignore what would make right-thinking people feel sick—which is how the New American Bible translates the phrase.
Let’s look at ourselves. Does easy living blind us to the decay of our society? Do our comfortable lives lead us to spiritual isolationism, where we live and let live, neither grieving nor acting to change the way things are in our newly godless environment?
Amos isn’t laying guilt trips. Neither is Jesus. They are giving us warnings. And like the rich man in the parable, we need to want with all our hearts to warn others. The night is advancing around us, and we are called and chosen to oppose the darkness with righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness, as St. Paul says.
So what can we do to make sure that our rack of lamb and glass of wine does not blind us to reality or lull us into inaction?
The first thing we must do, is to wake up from the false security that comes from comfort. We need first to understand what’s going on around us—the good and the bad. We need to know what we are called to do in the face of collapsing social systems, values and virtues.
You can find that out this coming Saturday. The parish is hosting a day-long video conference called the New Evangelization Summit. You’ll hear speakers who are leaders in the New Evangelization, the Church’s response to the falling away of countless Christians in Western countries including our own.
The Summit won’t just tell us what we need to do in this time of crisis; it will also tell us how. The day will inspire you, encourage you, and provide training, practical wisdom and resources on how to evangelize effectively at home and at work—without turning people off.
But, as the saying goes, you can’t give what you ain’t got. We ourselves need to be better evangelized—to have a living and active relationship with God and his Word. This is where the Discovery faith studies come in. The Discovery series gives us a chance to grow in the experience of our faith, together with others who want to walk with us on the discipleship path.
These small group studies take just six weeks each. Details are on the front page of this week’s bulletin. They’ve already been a great success in the parish, and I’ve not met anyone who didn’t find them to be interesting and challenging. Our Friday morning men’s group ran the studies last year and the reaction was extremely positive.
We invite you to sign up for a study after Mass today. If you took Discovery last year, there are other studies waiting for you to experience.
All this activity may make you wonder if Christ the Redeemer Parish is going a bit overboard. To answer that, I say please check out the Priorities and Goals of the Archdiocese on its website. I’m not the chief pastor of this parish; Archbishop Miller is. I’m not a successor of the Apostles, but he is.
As our senior shepherd, the Archbishop has challenged the local Church to focus on four things. We’ve already tackled two of them head on: “Get Closer to Jesus” and “Develop Parish Leadership and Support.”
Getting closer to Jesus is exactly what the Discovery faith studies are all about—not religious education, but growth in friendship with the Lord. And Alpha has that very same goal.
The Archbishop is well aware of how seriously we’re taking his priorities and goals. In August he formally acknowledged our efforts to develop parish leadership and support by approving a new structure for the parish pastoral council, including a parish core team.
The core team is a specific responds directly to a challenge in the Archdiocesan priorities and goals document, which states that “parishes thrive and experience renewal when pastors are enabled to delegate spiritual and administrative leadership roles to a talented and evangelized team of parishioners.”
The fruit of all this—growth in holiness, a new spirit of commitment to sharing the Gospel with others, and a laser focus in what we do as a parish—does not depend on the Archbishop, or on Fr. Jeff and me, or on the parish pastoral council, or on the members of the core team.
It depends on you. Each of you. So-called “ordinary” Catholics called to do things differently in a different world than the one in which we grew up.
Let’s not be grieved over the ruins of a Christian society. Let’s rebuild it together, and tell everyone the truth that the rich man was unable to share.
Let us convince others, especially by inviting them to the Alpha film series, that Someone has indeed risen from the dead—and that He makes all the difference.