26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Deacon Lawrence N. Kaas
September 26, 2010
September 26, 2010
What's in a Name? Maybe more than we realize, especially in the Bible. Most Israelite names had a readily understandable meaning. David means "beloved of God." Nathaniel means "God has given this child." Ezekiel means "may God strengthen this child." Ichabod mean "the glory has departed." Caleb means "dog." Deborah means "bee." Jonah means "dove" In all the parables Jesus told, only one character is named. He is the beggar in today's parable, Lazarus, which means "God helps."
For generations many readers of this parable have thought the rich man was named Dives. "Dives," which appeared in the Latin Vulgate, is not a name but the Latin word for "rich." This man was very rich, and lived in great luxury. Like kings and queens he ware a purple robe, which involved a rare and expensive dye. His inner garment was most likely of fine linen, probably from Egypt. His meals were elaborate banquets. Here was someone living a life that was far beyond the average person's imagination.
The rich man and Lazarus represented opposite ends of the economic spectrum. That Lazarus lay at the rich man's gate says something about his plight. He may have been crippled and probably suffered from a variety of diseases, including malnutrition. Bread served as a napkin in those days. After it was used it was thrown aside, and this is likely what kept Lazarus alive. He was so weak and helpless that he could not fend off the dogs that roamed the streets and licked his sores. A dog was considered an unclean animal. The lowest of the low gives what little comfort it could to Lazarus, so low on the human scale that the rich man could care less that he was begging at his gate.
Lazarus dies! Many of the Jews of that time believed that angels carried the dead to their eternal destination, Lazarus' place at the heavenly banquet is right next to Abraham, the place of honor. The rich man dies. In eternity he finds that things are very different from what they were in life. Before, he was in the lap of luxury, while Lazarus was on the outside looking in. Now, the rich man is the outsider. A great reversal has taken place. In the world he had everything he wanted, while letting an impoverished beggar die at his gate. His life had been a closed circle in which everything was for him alone. The circle that kept out the beggar also kept out God.
The rich man, now in desperate need of help, petitions Abraham. As he did so often in life, he gives an order: "Father Abraham, send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue." Abraham explains that there is a great chasm separating them, a gulf so wide that no one can cross from one side to the other. The rich man suggests another errand for Lazarus, "Send him to warn my brothers, lest they come to this place of torment." Abraham says, "They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them." The rich man says, "But if someone comes back from the dead, they will repent." Abraham says, "If they won't believe the scriptures, they won't be convinced if someone rises from the dead."
This exchange between the rich man and Abraham helps to relieve our offended sensibilities. How is it possible for such inhumanity to exist among humans made in the image of God? Who will answer for the injustice of one person overindulging continuously within view of another person who is dying from poverty, hunger and neglect? If such disparities are reconciled in eternity, that is at least some consolation.
Is it enough that in eternity the inequities of life in this world will be balance out? Is it enough that those who suffer great cruelty and endure terrible suffering in this life will be healed and made whole in the life to come? Could the most blissful heaven imaginable compensate for the suffering of one little child? Can eternity pay back the millions who died, or had loved ones who died, in POW camps, and concentration camps? What heavenly promise can ever make cancer acceptable, or war, or child abuse?
Christ came into the real world of human joys and sorrows, trials and triumphs, pain and suffering. In a short span of time He impacted the world as no other person has, before or since. Relatively few people actually saw Him or heard Him speak. Fewer still had their lives transformed by His inclusive love and healing touch. His disciples were commissioned to extend His ministry and proclaim His gospel to the ends of the earth. Christ promised to be with those who bear His name, to strengthen and inspire them to do the same work He had done among the needy of the world. "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself," wrote Paul, "and has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation." God helps - through us.
Do you remember the movie, "Oh God?" Denver challenged God, played by George Burns, with the question: "Why do you allow so much evil in the world? God responds by reminding Denver that we have a free will: therefore it is not God who allows evil but that we do by the misuse of our free will.
Among the most memorable expressions of this truth are the words of St. Teresa of Avila: "Christ has no body on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours. Ours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out upon the world, ours are the feet with which he goes about doing good, ours are the hands with which He blesses His people."
'Thank you' to Deacon Kaas, for letting me post his reflection here.
- "Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell, and Warm Fuzzies"
(August 8, 2010)
- "Fourth Sunday in ordinary Time, 2010"
(January 31, 2010)
- "Really Old Dust Grains, a Galactic Collision, and a Lively Interest in God's Creation"
(August 10, 2009)