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September 25 2016 (C) Twenty-Sixth SUNDAY of Year (c)

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: “The light of faith and questions of our own day”

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Amos 6:1, 4-7). Those who sprawl and those who bawl will be exiled.

Last Sunday the first reading was from the prophet Amos in which he severely criticized the Northern Kingdom of Israel for its misuse of riches and the oppression of the poor. The wealthy were enjoying the benefits of political and social rapid developments. Today’s reading describes the lives of the wealthy in some detail. They are enjoying life to the full in the Northern Kingdom of Israel (which could be poetically called “Joseph”), just as others were in Zion, Jerusalem, in the southern kingdom of Judah. They feel safe in the northern capital Samaria, quite unaware of the danger looming from the advance of the armies of Assyria which would soon destroy them and take the capital and the people into exile. The height of their life of luxury is described, with the best and most costly of everything, spread out (sprawling) on their rich couches (divans), with the most tender of meats (lamb and veal), bawling (NRSV “sing idle songs”), and presented as inventing new musical instruments, like David (proverbial for his musical skill rather than for inventing musical instruments), not just sipping wine but drinking the finest wines by bowlfuls. They are here condemned not so much for this luxury but for their neglect of the dire situation of their nation. They enjoyed their years of luxury (neglecting the poor) and will be repaid by being the first to be exiled (in the oncoming march of the empire of Assyria). As the heading to the reading puts it: “Those who sprawl and those who bawl will be exiled”. It is a fitting Old Testament reading to go with the Gospel reading and the parable on the rich man and Lazarus.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 145[146]). My soul, give praise to the Lord.

Second Reading (1 Timothy 6:11-16). Do all that you have been told until the Appearing of the Lord. This is the last reading from this First Letter to Timothy and comes towards the end of the letter. It follows immediately on a section on which Paul advises Timothy on attitudes and practices of some in the Christian community to be avoided. Among other matters he instances those who imagine that religion is a way of making a profit, on which he comments that religion, of course, does bring large profits, but only to those who are content with what the have (1 Timothy 6:3-6). Timothy as a man dedicated to God (literally “a man of God”) is to be a living witness to true Christian values, instances of which are given, beginning with mention of faith. Timothy is called on the fight the good fight of faith, by his way of life and attention to true doctrine. The life of Timothy, and Church leaders, is a witness to faith. Timothy is said to gave made profession of it and spoken up for the truth in the front of many witnesses – when, actually, we are not told, possibly at his baptism, rather than at his ordination as leader (see 2 Timothy 1:6). The emphasis is on the witness, the testimony; and the example and fountain head of all Christian witness is that of Jesus Christ who made testimony and made good confession before Pontius Pilate. This good witness and testimony of Jesus before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate may have been his very presence, even if silent. But there may be reference to Jesus’ words to Pilate that he had come into the world to bear witness to the truth (see John 18:37). Timothy is told to keep “the commandment” without fault or failure, where by commandment his entire missionary mandate, rather than any particular commandment, is probably meant. The passage ends with a mention of the Second Coming of Christ, and with a hymn of praise, a doxology, to the unseen God, similar to that already given in 1:17.

The Gospel (Luke 16:19-31). Good things came your way, just as bad things came the way of Lazarus. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony. In its Gospel context, this well-known parable of he rich man (in Latin Dives) and Lazarus is linked with texts immediately preceding in Luke’s narrative, notably last Sunday’s reading with the parable of the wasteful steward and Jesus’ comments on it. This is followed (Luke 16:14-18) with sayings addressed to the Pharisees on the Law and the Prophets, the Law, as understood by Jesus, said to be still valid, but at times made more radical as in the case of divorce. Then comes today’s reading with the messages drawn from the parable. The parable is in three sections which can be considered separately. First there is the description of the rich man’s life of luxury and the misery of the poor man Lazarus, and the death of both. Lazarus is taken to “Abraham’s bosom”. Abraham, apparently, is presented as reclining at the messianic banquet, and Lazarus now reclining on his bosom. The rich man is also buried, consigned to Hades, the eternal place of torment. The second section gives the conversation between the rich man, now in Hades, and Abraham. Abraham speaks on behalf of God. The rich man may call on Abraham, father of the Jewish race, as “Father Abraham”, but to no avail. His request for some alleviation of his pains is rejected. The third section contains the rich man’s appeal on behalf of his five brothers still alive, with the request that Lazarus return and warn them to avoid torment. The request is rejected. Their religious traditions, found in the Law of Moses and the prophetic writings, are guide enough with regard to the dangers of riches and to concern for the poor. If one is not open to the voice of God present in these writings, the voice of one presumed returned from the dead would not be heeded.

B. Reflection & Dialogue: “The light of faith and questions of our own day”

Today’s readings, and in particular the first reading and the gospel, invite us to reflect on belief in Christ and in the next life and our mission as members of the human race and all its concerns. This is a topic in which the modern world is in dialogue with us, and there are loud voices putting forward the view that faith and the Christian tradition are obstacles to human progress and the care of the poor. Pope Francis has recently spoken of this in his encyclical Lumen Fidei, “The Light of Faith”, an encyclical which is really the work of his predecessor, the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (Josef Ratzinger). Although the Pope’s views have already been drawn to the attention to the users of this internet site earlier this year (Reflection 19th Sunday) they merit repetition here. The Pope notes (paragraph 2) that in speaking of the light of faith we can hear the objections of many of our contemporaries. In modernity, that light might have been considered sufficient for societies of old, but was felt to be of no use for our times, for a humanity come of age, proud of its rationality and anxious to explore the future in novel ways. Faith thus appeared to some as an illusory light, preventing mankind from boldly setting out in quest of knowledge. Faith was thus understood either as a leap in the dark, to be taken in the absence of light, driven by blind emotion or as a subjective light, capable perhaps of warming the heart and bringing personal consolation, but not something which could be proposed to others as an objective and shared light which points the way. The Pope goes on to say that there is need, then, to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith goes out, all other light begin to dim.

            For the prophets and for Jesus faith is not an illusory light, nor just a subjective light capable perhaps of warming the heart. This is clear from the text of Amos read today and from the parable of he rich man (Dives) and Lazarus. And this parable is not a stand alone text. It is reflected again in the words of the Son of Man at the judgment of the Last Day, where the eternal destiny of individuals is made to depend on how they behaved towards their fellow men and women in their hour of need – the hungry, thirsty, naked, the stranger, the sick, the one in prison. Central to belief in God and in Christ are the two commandments, the love of God and love of the neighbour. And as Jesus reminded the person who questioned him on the subject in the parable “The Good Samaritan”, the implication of the command to love one’s neighbour can make demands, broadening one’s understanding of the neighbour.

            It is these two commandments that has had the Church down through the centuries – the Church as institution, clergy, religious, lay organizations, lay individuals – work for the wellbeing of humanity, when there were no state organizations to do so. Faith is not an obstacle, but rather a help in facing the problems of our age, or of any age.