A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

Archive for September, 2016

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To Have and Have not

Sometimes, watching the news on TV can be a little disheartening.  Not too long ago, I saw a large number of people lined up in front of a grocery store in Caracas, Venezuela.  As it turned out, there was nothing in the store for them to buy.  One lady being interviewed said, “I have only one egg, which I have to share with my dog.”

Then we have the situation in the United States.  We often go from store to store to do grocery shopping comparing prices and buying what we want.  We have a relatively delicious meal, and more often than not we tend to throw away the uneaten food.  We have just noted in the illustration of the United States and Venezuela an example of the “Haves” and the “Have nots.”

In the Gospel for the twenty sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 16:19-31) we see Jesus utilizing a parable of the “Haves” and the “Have nots.”  A rich man dressed in fancy clothes who dined sumptuously (“Have”), and a very poor man named Lazarus who wasn’t allowed to eat the scraps from the rich man’s table (“Have nots”).  Apparently, the rich man noticed Lazarus, but ignored him completely.

Then, both men died. The rich man went to the netherworld and was tormented, while Lazarus was taken by angels to the bosom of Abraham.  Here we have the “reversal of fortune” concept.  In this life the rich man had “good,” while Lazarus had “bad.”  In the next life, Lazarus had “good” while the rich man had “bad.”  What does this mean?

In this “reversal of fortune” theme, the rich man asks Abraham if he could send Lazarus down with some water to cool his tongue because he was suffering via the flames.  Abraham replied,  “Remember that in life you received the good, while Lazarus received the bad.  But now, in the after life,  he is comforted here while you are tormented.”

Then, in an attempt to have some success in the encounter with Abraham, the rich man pleads, “Then send Lazarus to my father’s house where I have five brothers who should be warned about what happened to me.”  He hoped that his brothers might be affected if the ghost of a dead man gave them advise. But the request was in vain.  Why?  Because if the brothers did not pay attention to the comments of Moses and the prophets, what good would the words of a “ghost” do?  The Law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets focused on the need to help one another. The rich man had it good  in this life but bad in the next life.  Lazarus had it bad in this life, but good in the next life.

What was the real source of the problem?  It was a matter of CHOICE.  In this life, the rich man was aware of Lazarus’ condition but chose not to give him food. In the next life the rich man asked for Lazarus to give him water to slate his thirst, but was refused.  Choices made in this life often affect your outcome in the next life.

What lessons can we learn from this Gospel message?  First of all, be aware that we are constantly making decisions.  For example, I see someone suffering, do I choose to do anything to help?  Is it easy for for me to ignore the poor, the sick, the helpless, and the troubled in this life?  Remember, the choices that I make in this life will definitely affect me in the next life.

Second, the Scriptures can easily tell me why and who are those in need who need my help.  I should become familiar with the Bible.  Those who choose to help others in need are the “Haves.”  Those who choose not to be bothered by others in personal need are the “Have nots.”  Where am I along that spectrum?

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What goes up must come down.

Legend has it that one day Isaac Newton (17th and 18th cent.) was sitting under a tree when an apple fell on his head.  (I suspect that over the years the legend changed a bit here and there.)  Newton was the kind of fellow who often asked questions about many things.  So…he started to think about gravity.

One of the things about gravity was its conceptual use as a metaphor for the phrase “things that go up must come down.”  This notion fits in well with the basic lesson in the Gospel for the twenty second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 1, 7-14).  And that basic lesson is one of “humility.”

Jesus is invited to dinner.  Apparently, he appears to be very observant in noticing that many people seem to heading toward the “best” places at the table.  Not realizing, of course, that the host would more than likely place someone more important in that spot.  This could lead to severe embarrassment.  Jesus’ sage advise is: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself shall be exalted.”

What does this mean?  With this bit of wisdom, Jesus is speaking about being invited and doing the inviting.  Humility is important in both instances.  When you are invited to a meal, go to the lowest place at the table.  The host may put you at a more prestigious spot.  When you invite others to a party, don’t invite only those friends who will most likely return the gesture. Rather, invite those who can’t pay you back.  For example, the poor, the sick, the disabled.

In other words, from a moral perspective, what goes up (pride) must come down (humility.)  Humility can be a difficult or simplistic thing.  What is it anyway?  Simply put, humility is the telling of the truth.  You are who you are and it would be stupid to pretend that you are someone else.

If you have talents, accept them.  They are God given gifts in order to help you serve others.  No one has ever been cheated.  God may not have given all of us musical talent, but may well have given us something musicians can’t do. For instance,  listening intensively to others.  And that is how it goes.  Accept the truth as reality.

It is motivation, above all, that helps us deal with reality while reflecting on our own reasons for dealing with others.  Why do I want to do this or that?  In order to impress someone?  Or in order to do it because I can and I will.

Remember that we are all created in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:27), which means we deal with others as who we are and not who we wish to be.  Handling that reality bespeaks humility.  If ever there was a good metaphor for this Gospel reading it is that of gravity.  What goes up (pride) must come down (humility).

 

 

 

 

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