By FATHER DONALD DILGER
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
First Reading: Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Response: Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10; Second Reading: 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Gospel: Luke 16:19-31
In last Sunday’s first reading, we became acquainted with the 8th century B.C. prophet Amos and his concern over the political, social and religious corruption of the northern kingdom called the Kingdom of Israel. Last Sunday, he denounced merchants whose greed oppressed the poor and needy. In today’s reading, he attacks people of wealthy leisure, which may be difficult to understand for moderns who live in security; in the privileges brought by earned wealth; or by those protected with social safety nets. The context of Amos’ message tells us that he is venting against the idle rich who have no concern over the impending ruin of their kingdom. There is no satisfactory explanation of why, in the first line, he proclaims doom against Zion, which usually means Jerusalem in the southern kingdom. In this context, Amos is speaking in and against the northern kingdom in its capital city Samaria. His first complaint: they lounge on beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches, eating lamb and veal. The Lord is using the temperament and experience of this tough old rancher and orchardist Amos. No doubt Amos had spent much of his time outdoors with camp-food, and sleeping on the ground as demanded by his work.
Amos has no taste nor time for music. “Improvising on the harp like David, they devise their own accompaniment.” He did not even spare David, their George Washington. David’s skill with the harp is based on 1 Samuel 16:16-23. Our problem may be that Amos attributes his criticism of harp and music to “Thus says the Lord.” Perhaps the Lord was just overwhelmed by the music in the temples at Jerusalem and Samaria, wanting a moment of silence. Next: “They drink wine from bowls . . . .” Amos’ dislike of this practice may be in reference to idolatrous worship in heathen temples. “. . . and anoint themselves with the best oils.” Anointing oneself with olive oil was a common and approved practice; Amos’ criticism may have been against using the finest oils. He was, after all, a tough outdoorsman. The prophet sees all this as “the collapse of Joseph.” The clan descended from the patriarch Joseph’s son Ephraim settled in the area which, in Amos’ time, was within the Kingdom of Israel. Amos ends with a threat against the idle rich, “They shall be the first to go into exile.” This reading was selected to correspond to the gospel’s story of the rich man who feasted daily while poor Lazarus had nothing.
Psalm 146 responds to the first reading by praising the Lord. He is faithful, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. He raises up the humbled, protects strangers, sustains orphans and widows, but frustrates the wicked. That’s quite a job description. What is missing is the fact that, for the most part, the Lord does all this through human hands and hearts. Often, we have to rely on men of power, of whom the psalmist says, (a verse not included in our response), “Do not put your trust in men of power . . . .” They also can be useful for God’s purposes.
Our second reading continues a series of selections from the First Letter to Timothy. He was a young coworker of Paul, who recruited him on his second missionary journey (See Acts 16:1-3). Timothy was an offspring of a mixed marriage. His mother was a Jew, his father a Gentile. Paul feels the need for further instruction of his young protégé. “You, man of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, gentleness,” — qualities of an ideal pastor. Timothy comes across as being somewhat timid. Paul tries to instill backbone into him. “I charge you before God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus, who gave testimony before Pontius Pilate, to keep the commandment without stain or reproach.”
The gospel picks up from Amos the theme of the idle rich and neglect of the poor. An unnamed rich man “dressed in purple garments and fine linen feasted sumptuously daily.” Dumped at his door was a poor Lazarus who could not even get to the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. All the help he got was from nature, as “the dogs licked his sores.” Lazarus was a name in common use in first century Palestine. Jesus (or Luke) chose the name because of its meaning. The name Lazarus is derived from Hebrew or Aramaic “El’azar,” meaning “God has helped.” The rich man ignored the opportunity to be God’s helper, so God provided other means, not in this world, but in the next. Lazarus died and the angels carried him off to the “bosom of Abraham.” This was an expression for a place of honor or a place for favorites (See John 13:23). The rich man dies and ends up in Hades — the abode of the dead. It was believed that people are punished in that faculty of the body that they abused. Recall the man’s daily banquet implying gluttony — in this case a sin of the tongue. This explains why the rich man asks God to send Lazarus with a drop of water to cool his burning tongue. Abraham explains to the rich man that fortunes have been reversed. The poor man is now the rich man, the rich man the poor man.
That is not the only problem. There was a great chasm, Abraham explains, “to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or vice versa.” Although the rich man had no feelings for the poor in his lifetime, he does still have some feeling for his own relatives. He had five brothers. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn them “lest they too come to this place of torment.” Abraham reminds the rich man that his brothers have Moses (the Torah) and the Prophets to guide them in their behavior toward the poor. Two guidelines come to mind. From the Torah (Deuteronomy 15:11), “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor in your land.” From the Prophets (Isaiah 58:7): “This is the fast I prefer, to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house.” The rich man thinks that a warning from a dead man would lead them to repentance. Abraham disagrees. “If they don’t believe Moses and the Prophets, neither will they believe if someone rises from the dead.” By using this latter part of the story, Luke may be warning those who reject the resurrection of Jesus.