The Lectionary

How often do we see Lazarus every day?

Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Readings : Amos 6:1a,4-7

1 Timothy 6:11-16

Luke 16:19-31

This Sunday’s readings continue last week’s warnings about the impossibility of serving God and money by exposing how those who accumulate wealth and luxury become indifferent to God. As we reject decadent materialism, let us embrace the path of true happiness offered by our responsorial psalm. “Happy the one who keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry” (Ps 146:7).

Amos’ warning to the idle rich details the excesses of their lives. They recline on “beds of ivory,” eat rich diets of lamb and stall-fed calves in a country traditionally poor in meat, enjoy lavish musical entertainment, drink “wine from bowls,” and “anoint themselves with the best oils.” All of this luxury only dulls their consciences so that “they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph!” Fittingly, the pampered wealthy “shall be the first to go into exile, and their wanton revelry shall be done away with.”

The reading from 1 Timothy is preceded and followed by warnings against false teachers “who value religion only as a means of personal gain” (see 1 Tim 6:6-10, 17-19). Instead of pursuing transient wealth, the Pauline author exhorts Timothy to “seek after integrity, piety, faith, love, steadfastness, and a gentle spirit.” These are virtues of “everlasting life” to which Christians are called by their baptism. The model for fulfilling one’s baptismal commitment is Jesus himself “who in bearing witness made his noble profession before Pontius Pilate.” As Timothy strives “to keep God’s command without blame or reproach until our Lord Jesus Christ shall appear,” he should remember that God will bring this appearance to pass and that he alone is the immortal ruler of the universe.

Jesus’ parable contrasts the status of “a rich man” and “a beggar named Lazarus who lay at his gate” in this life and the next. In this world the rich man “dressed in purple and linen and feasted splendidly every day,” while Lazarus “was covered with sores” that were “licked by dogs” and he “longed to eat the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.” But at death the two men’s fates are reversed. Lazarus is “carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham,” but the rich man is sent to “the abode of the dead where he was in torment.”

The point of the parable comes in the concluding dialogue between the rich man and Abraham. The rich man learns the reason for his punishment. At first, he thinks that he, as a son of Abraham and an acquaintance of Lazarus (see Lk 3:8-9), can remedy his situation. He asks:

“Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water to refresh my tongue, for I am tortured in these flames.”

Abraham’s answer not only points out the reversal of fate between the two men, but also the irreversible “great abyss” which separates those who were once near to each other in this life:

“My child ... remember that you were well off in your lifetime, while Lazarus was in misery. Now he has found consolation here, but you have found torment. And that is not all. Between you and us there is fixed a great abyss, so that those who might wish to cross from here to you cannot do so, nor can anyone cross from your side to us.”

If there was to be any interaction between the rich man and Lazarus, it had to take place in their earthly lives when the rich man could have cared for the needy beggar who “lay at his gate.”

The rich man then asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers, but Abraham insists that they have the warnings of Moses and the prophets, as found, for example, in our first reading from Amos. If his brothers will not listen to the teachings of Moses and the prophets, even Jesus’ resurrection from the dead will not convince them (see Lk 3:7-14; 16:16-17; 24:25-45).