Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31
The attack of the prophet Amos, (740s B.C.) on offenders in Samaria continues from last Sunday’s first reading. Those denunciations were aimed directly at merchants cheating the poor in the sale of one of the basic necessities of their lives — grain. This week’s attack is aimed at no class in particular, just against those who lead lives of ease. The language is harsh. Amos begins, “Here is what the Lord says, ‘Woe (Doom) to those who are complacent in Zion.’” Zion is usually a reference to Jerusalem, capital of the Kingdom of Judah in the south. But Amos was preaching in the north, to and in the Kingdom of Israel. No satisfactory explanation has been found for the insertion of “Zion.” It could be the error of a copyist or scribe. Here are some of Amos’ complaints against the prosperous of Israel: lying on beds of ivory, stretched out on their couches, eating the meat of lambs and of calves (veal). Are these practices something to be condemned? Yes, from Amos’ point of view because to him they were symptoms of neglect of the poor. The poor had only grain, while the prosperous dined on meat.
“Stretched out on their couches, eating” is also offensive to Amos because reclining at meals is a foreign innovation. Israelites used to sit on rugs when eating, as is still a custom in parts of the Middle East. Amos, a tough rancher and orchardist, has no taste for music or song, “They improvise to the music of the harp.” Even the long dead King David is not spared, “. . . like David they devise their own accompaniment.” If the music and songs were not vulgar or bawdy, this should not have bothered Amos, but he attributes these accusations to the Lord himself. “They drink wine from bowls,” seems inoffensive. In the Old Testament bowls are sometimes used in religious rituals. The same can be said for anointing with oil, since Amos’ complaint is that, “they anoint themselves with the finest oils.” The bowls of wine and the finest oils may refer to some idolatrous religious rituals. The prophet sees all this emphasis on a life of ease as “the collapse of Joseph.” The clan descended from the patriarch Joseph’s son Ephraim settled in the area which in Amos’ time was located in the Kingdom of Israel. Amos’s denunciation began with the word “Doom” (Woe). He ends with the specific doom that will come upon the easy living Israelites, “They shall be the first to go into exile.”
The title of the Responsorial Psalm, 146, is “A Hymn to the God of Help.” There are some phrases in the psalm that can connect it in theme to Amos’ oracles. “Blessed is he that keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets captives free. The Lord raises up those bowed down, protects strangers, sustains orphans and widows.” Like Amos, the Lord is a champion of the poor, the powerless, the oppressed.
The second reading, from 1 Timothy, continues a series of selections from the Pastoral Letters. The author is clearly the patron and teacher of Timothy. The advice is very direct. Timothy, as a “man of God,” must pursue justice, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Quite a program for any pastor! The letters to Timothy indicate a young man not very sure of himself. To inspire self-confidence in Timothy, Paul proposes a role model, “Christ Jesus, who gave witness under Pontius Pilate . . . .” Paul is a master of doxologies — hymns or poems praising God. He closes with a doxology after a final plea to Timothy to hold on to the mandate he received from Paul, “until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ,” whom God will make manifest, God who is “King of Kings, Lord of Lords, . . . to him be honor and eternal power. Amen.”
The gospel reading is a parable about the use or abuse of wealth and the immoral inconsistency between the lives of the very rich and the lives of the totally poor and powerless. The rich man is described as “eating sumptuously every day.” Dumped at his door was poor Lazarus covered with sores and hungry. The rich man is unnamed. The poor man’s name is well chosen for the story — Lazarus, from the Hebrew Elazar meaning “God helps.” God however gives the rich man the opportunity to substitute for God by helping the poor man. No luck on that! Both men die. The rich man is buried in Hades, (the underworld). Angels carry the poor man to the “bosom of Abraham,” meaning a place of privilege next to the host of a dinner. For example, John 13:23, the Beloved Disciple is said to be “reclining on the bosom of Jesus,” (not lap, but breast, as affectionate children do to a parent). Ancient documents reveal that there was a belief that in the next world the saved and the damned can see each other. That’s what happens in the story.
Now the rich man is the poor man. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus over the divide with a drop of water to cool his tongue. Another ancient belief — the damned will be punished in that faculty by which they sinned most, in this case, eating sumptuously every day while ignoring the sick and hungry poor man. Abraham declines, but still recognizes the rich man as one of his own, addressing him as Teknon, (son, child). Abraham reminds the rich man of the well-deserved role reversal between him and Lazarus. Besides that, the deep canyon between them prevents any crossing over, no bridges. Seeing that there is no hope for himself, the rich man puts Plan B into action. Would Abraham send Lazarus to warn the rich man’s five brothers how to avoid Hades? “No,” says Abraham, “They have warnings in the Scriptures. Not even a resurrection of the dead would change them.” Thus Luke ends with a callout for the teachings of the Torah (Moses) and the Prophets on the obligation of the wealthy to help the poor. Torah: “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor in your land,” Deuteronomy 15:11. Prophets: “This is the fast I prefer, to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house.” Then there is Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”