Sunday, September 25, 2016

Homily for Today

"Fight the good fight of the faith." [1 Tim. 6:12] Welcome my brothers and sisters in Christ to today's celebration of the Holy Mass on the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Today's message from the first and last readings is that the rich were self-centered, enjoying a life of luxury and insensitivity while the poor suffered around them. It would have been better if the rulers of Judah and Israel, and the rich man, had paid attention to St. Paul's message that we heard from the First Letter of Paul to Timothy, "Fight the good fight of the faith."

Today's First Reading from the Book of Amos [Amos 6:1-14] is the last of three woe that the Lord God promised to inflict upon Judah and Israel because of their evil deeds. These nations had rulers who were idle, insensitive to the need of the poor and lived in luxury. Accordingly, God said that they would be taken into exile.

History tells us that the rulers slept on extravagant beds that were inlaid with ivory panels. They ate the most costly food, including calves that had been raised on milk alone, this making the meat very tender. During meals, they listened to idle songs to the sound of the harp. In this environment of indolence (avoiding work), never mind drinking wine out of cup, they drank it out of bowls. Over and above all this, they anointed themselves with the finest oils.

These rulers were so insensitive that they did not even grieve over the ruin of Joseph. Here the reference to Joseph is not to a person but rather to a kingdom. Because Joseph was the ancestor of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, the members of these tribes were frequently called the "sons of Joseph," the "house of Joseph," or just "Joseph." Joseph, these tribes, had been destroyed and the rulers were totally indifferent to that fact.

Because of such unacceptable behaviours, the rulers were going to be captured and taken into exile. Their days of celebrating were coming to an end. In other words, the party was just about over!

The Gospel Reading has a similarity. Again we heard of luxury and insensitivity. The rich man lived like a king and was totally insensitive to the needs of Lazarus. The difference in the Gospel of Luke versus the Book of Amos is that in the former reading, we heard of the outcome of such behaviour. While the rich man may have been blessed with great luxury, he was only successful for a time. When he died, he could not take his luxury with him in the afterlife. None of his luxury could defend him against the judgment that awaited him. In fact, his luxury condemned him.

When Jesus related this story, His intent was to spiritually awaken the Pharisees who were fond of money. As Luke 16:14 tells us, they "heard all this, and they ridiculed Him." The Pharisees had elevated themselves to the extent that no one, not even Jesus, could correct them for their own salvation. They were beyond reproach!

Returning to the rich man and the poor man, in the days of Jesus, it was understood that Jewish landowner were Yahweh's tenants. [Lev. 25:23] The landowner owed "taxes" to God's representatives, these being the poor. And they were expected to share the land with them in the form of assistance. [Mic. 2:9; Is. 58:7; Neh. 5:1-19] Based on this custom, the rich man was obligated to take care of Lazarus, ensuring that his basic needs were met. But this was not happening.

The reason as to why dogs were hanging around the table is because when the guests were invited to a feast, they would use bread to wipe their plates or their hands and then toss it under the table. Naturally, this would draw the dogs who would clean up the floor by eating what had been dropped from the table. This is the food that Lazarus longed to have so he could survive.

The Gospel of Luke tells us that the poor man was not very healthy. He had sores that the dogs would come and lick. Obviously the poor man could not afford medication and the rich man refused to acknowledge his presence and his needs. And so the poor man died. Soon after, the rich man died.

The poor man was taken to Heaven by angels and the rich man was sent to Hades where he was tormented. What followed was the rich man's request to Abraham, that Lazarus be sent to him so he could dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue, because he was in agony from the flames.

Abraham answered, "Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony." [Lk. 16:25]

These words remind me of the "Judgment of the Nations." Jesus said, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, etc..." [Mt. 25:34-5] "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." [Mt. 25:40] This is a very powerful statement! What the rich man did to Lazarus, he did it to Jesus!

Next, we heard that the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his father's house to warn his five brothers of the plight that awaited them if they continued to live as the rich man did. Abraham answered that his brothers had Moses and the prophets. In other words, they had the laws and the words of the prophets.

Equally today, we have the Words of Jesus and the teachings of the Holy Catholic Church that are continuously related to us through the ministers of the Word of God. As the rich man had plenty of opportunities to hear the truth, today, God's creations, within and without the Church, have all the necessary opportunities to hear the truth. Sending Lazarus back to earth in spirit form is not going to save anyone. Today, if someone was to see Lazarus, rather than listening to his message of salvation, they would ask him, "How did you do that?" Then they would try to reproduce the same result through scientific means so other souls can travel back and forth between Heaven and earth. They would miss the whole point!

All of this brings us to the Second Reading, the First Letter of Paul to Timothy. St. Paul begins today's reading by calling Timothy a "man of God." [1 Tim. 6:11] The title "man of God" was generally applied to the great figures in the Old Testament such as Moses and to the prophets. [Deut. 33:1; 1 Sam. 2:27; 1 Kgs. 12:22, 13:1, etc...] The application of this title most likely meant that Timothy was very dedicated to the service of God.

When St. Paul told Timothy to fight the good fight of the faith, he was stating two things. First of all, Paul compared the Christian faith to a race. We read of this in one of his letters where it states, "Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified." [1 Cor. 9:24-7]

Towards the end of his life, St. Paul added, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." [2 Tim. 4:7]

Secondly, St. Paul was reminding Timothy that at his baptism, he had made a profession of faith before many witnesses. Before God, the Church and the faithful, Timothy had an obligation to persevere in his faith to the end of the race.

Timothy was charged to keep the commandment without spot or blame. In other words, he was charged to protect the complete deposit, all the truths of the Catholic faith that had been entrusted to him.

Much more could be said about today's readings. But what has been said is sufficient for all of us to perceive that our Christian faith calls us to do two things. First of all, to persevere to the end. Secondly, to preserve the truths of the faith that have been entrusted to us at our baptism. And for us to preserve the truths of the faith, it becomes necessary for us to learn them prior to passing them on to others.

This week, let us commit some time to review how we can improve our knowledge of the Catholic faith so when we speak on behalf of the Church, we do so with sound doctrines. Some may chose to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Others may chose to read one or more Councils of the early Church. There are Encyclicals that can be reviewed. All of these are excellent tools that will richly increase our knowledge of the Catholic faith for the glory of God.

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