Seeing God in the Poor

September 22, 2016 - 6:00am
Reflections on Sunday's Mass Readings

Blessed he who keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. Psalm 147

 

First Reading

Woe to the complacent. Their wanton revelry shall be done away with (Amos 6:1a, 4-7).

 

Amos lived in a period of religious reform. The deeds Amos condemns are those of injustice to the poor, abuse of power, and sexual license. Even in the midst of these violations of the covenant life to which it had been called, Israel evidenced a self-satisfaction, an assurance of its own merit. While some in Israel enjoyed the luxuries that wealth can supply, others were sold into slavery or abused in the field or marketplace. Amos suggested that Israel may well be worse off than it had been when worshiping other gods. There are solemn covenant obligations that come with the worship of the true God. Every gift we receive from God is meant for benefit of others as well as ourselves.

Just as the prophets warned Israel that its special status wouldn’t protect but rather condemn it if it failed to act in accord with that grace, so too the tremendous blessings of grace that we receive in the sacraments won’t assure our salvation if we’re not receptive to and transformed by them. The graces we’ve been offered will stand in witness against us if we refuse these gifts of God.

 

Second Reading

Compete well for the faith. Keep the commandment until the appearance of the Lord Jesus (1 Timothy 6:11-16).

 

It is wealth that blinded Israel to the obligations of the covenant and its own complacency in the time of Amos, and Paul now warns Bishop Timothy that “some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Timothy 6:10). Our first reading describes the dangers to our religious commitment that wealth can pose, and this reading describes what the man or woman of God should seek as an alternative.

Writing from Macedonia to the young Timothy, this exhortation comes near the end of Paul’s letter. Paul shows no shyness about invoking his full authority in order to stiffen the commitment of Timothy in the face of false teachings that had appeared in Ephesus. All Christians, and not merely bishops, are called to the highest possible standard of integrity, piety, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness of spirit. Without the grace we receive from our profession of faith and the sacraments which flow from it, none of us could meet that standard.

 

Gospel

The parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31).

 

This parable is about a rich man (sometimes called “Dives” in Latin, meaning “rich man”) and a poor beggar named Lazarus, who lives at the gate of the rich man. In the end, Dives finds “torment” in the afterlife and Lazarus finds “rest” in the bosom of Abraham. It’s this reference to Abraham’s bosom, traditionally understood as the place where the souls of the just awaited their redemption prior to Christ’s coming (CCC 633), which would have appealed to the Pharisees. Jesus may be issuing a warning to the Pharisees as well. Dives did nothing to offend Lazarus, he simply failed to notice him; his heart had grown hard to the point that he couldn’t see the needs of a man sitting at his own gate.

There’s a religious corollary to the hardness of the heart that material wealth can cause. We can easily become complacent toward those who are outside the Church because of the wealth that God has given us in all the graces of the new covenant. We must strive to be more attentive to the needs of those at our gates, even those outside our covenant family. In the case of both material help and sharing the Gospel, fidelity to God and his covenant demands it.

 

Meditation & Discussion

 

In prayer, imagine for a moment that you are one of the rich man’s friends. He has invited you to dinner and you are excited about the meal you will eat because you know it will be delicious. As you approach the rich man’s house, you see Lazarus lying at the gate. What do you feel as you see him? What do you do? Do you step over him, anxious to get inside to the banquet? Do you stop to talk to him? Now imagine that the rich man sees you and begins to gesture to you to hurry up and come in the house. What do you say to the rich man?

Ask the Holy Spirit to show you ways you might be selfish with the goods that you have been given. Do you use the goods entrusted to you to help serve the needy? Ask God to show you one way you might better serve the poor or a “Lazarus” in your life this week.

 


Opening the Word offers prayers and insights for the Sunday Scriptural lessons. Featuring videos designed to facilitate thought and discussion for faith formation, Personal Prayer Journals and a Group Leader’s Guide, Opening the Word helps you to make the most of the Sunday readings. Opening the Word is one of many programs available at Formed.org.

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