Sunday Sermon for September 29, 2013, the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Am 6:1a, 4-7; 1Tim 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31
In the second reading today St. Paul directs Timothy to lay hold of eternal life to which he is called. This same directive can be extended to each one of us as well. Many of us like to say that we want to go to Heaven, but we have to remember that it is not just our belief in Jesus that will get us there, it is acting in accord with that belief.
St. Paul instructs us on what it means to lay hold of eternal life. We are to pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness. He follows this up with the command to compete well for the faith. All of these are necessary, but they are really all summed up in the point about righteousness. If we are truly righteous it will be because of our faith in God and it will be expressed in devotion, love patience, gentleness and all of the other virtues. A person who is actually righteous is one who has acquired all of the virtues.
This being the case, we all need to be striving for righteousness. This implies holiness which, in turn, implies being like God. We recall that our Lord has taught us that we are to be children of our Father Who lets the sun shine on the just and the unjust and allows the rain to fall on the good and the bad. These words are spoken in the context of needing to achieve a greater degree of holiness. He compares some of what we do to Gentiles, tax collectors and sinners. If we are doing only what they are doing, we can hardly be called righteous.
Along with this reading the Church also gives us the readings from Amos and Luke to remind us of how selfishness, pride and a sense of entitlement take righteousness away from us. In Amos we hear about those who are wealthy but not at all concerned with anything beyond their own comfort and entertainment. In those days entertainment was not so easy to come by because it had to be live. Today, it seems that there are very few who are not entertained the vast majority of the time.
I recall visiting India where the people had nothing. No beds, a few plastic chairs, no plumbing, but they had television sets. Living in the poorest area of city I was always amazed that the people could not afford food, but they had TV’s, cell phones, cars, and devices with headphones to listen to their music. It seems that even the poor have fallen prey to the problem addressed by Amos: concern only for the self.
We are presented in the Gospel with an extreme example of what this looks like in this life and in the life to come. We hear about Dives, the Latin word for the rich man, and Lazarus, the poor beggar. Dives would not give Lazarus even a scrap or a crust from his bread in all the while the beggar sat near the rich man’s gate. I suppose Lazarus would have been seen as a nuisance and, perhaps, even an eye sore perched in front of the home of a wealthy aristocrat.
From hell we hear Dives calling out to Abraham, asking him to send Lazarus to cool his tongue. The selfishness and comfort seeking obviously do not end for those who go the wrong direction. The problem is that in eternity they will never have a single one of their selfish desires satisfied. This, unfortunately, will not stop them from being concerned only with themselves. It is the way of every person in hell.
Abraham instructed Dives that he had good things in his lifetime while Lazarus had bad things. Now the tide has turned and Lazarus in is Heaven while Dives continues to seek only his own self interests. The point our Lord is making is pretty clear and we need to start now to work toward the righteousness to which we are called.
This begins and ends with prayer so that we can be more and more conformed to God. But this conformity means that we begin this think and act more like God. What is important to Him becomes important to us; what is foolishness to Him is also folly to us. God wants us selfish creatures to grow in charity, to get the focus off of ourselves and to love God and neighbor.
He is asking us to prepare now for the eternal life to which we have been called. To trade in Heaven for selfishness, comfort, pleasure and entertainment is the height of foolishness. Righteousness is the opposite of everything this world presents as important. Righteousness is God-likeness; it unites to with Jesus and becomes the way to eternal life.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.