Connecting the Dots

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day.”  [Luke 16:19-31

Jesus said to the Pharisees us.

“And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.”

Two men lived in close proximity to one another but under very different circumstances, one was wealthy, the other was destitute. Eventually, they both died and went on to the afterlife. The storyline zooms in on a conversation between the former man of privilege, now tormented by the fires in the Netherworld, and Abraham, in whose excellent company the other man, Lazarus, now rested.

In life, privileged people step over the Lazarus’s every day, walk by them, and even know their names. Did the rich man, while lifting his purple robe so as to not brush against the beggar’s wounds as he stepped out of his house, ever think about Lazarus, or drop him a stale crust? Or did he simply look the other way, tsk tsk’ing about lazy people who do nothing all day and expect handouts from hardworking, tax-paying citizens?

The world exists, some might have us believe, for our pleasure. The rich man probably felt he earned the purple garments, fine linen, and sumptuous dining. He worked hard for them, dammit. The poor, wounded man lying outside his door was not his concern.  His sole concern was for himself.

But in death, the formerly privileged man found himself in poor man’s place, begging Abraham to make Lazarus help him. Still, even in death he saw himself as one to be served. Not a single word of remorse for his lack of charity was included with his pleas to Abraham to have Lazarus comfort him, not a moment of regret for his astonishing selfishness in life, not a thought for anyone else, except perhaps for his equally self-absorbed brothers. “If you can’t make Lazarus help me, at least send him to my family!”

Too late, Abraham tells him. It’s too damn late.

This parable, which is the gospel reading for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, is not a prescription for getting to heaven. What it is is a starkly accurate portrayal of modern day attitudes towards the vulnerable, and one that really needs to be taken to heart.

Some might say, “Oh this story is so obvious. It’s exaggerated: just a simple morality play.” Some may protest, “The problem of the poor is so much more complicated than that, we can’t just give to everybody who asks us.” Really?  Is opening our wallet and putting some cash into the hand of a person experiencing homelessness going to lead to the impoverishment of our families?

This parable ought to help us open our eyes and hearts to what we can do to alleviate the world’s suffering, even, and especially if it means making room in our homes, churches, and communities for refugees.

Meanwhile, a 6-year old boy named Alex from Scarsdale, NY sees on television the stunned, dust and blood covered face of a boy about his age, the victim of bombing in a far-off place, and delivers the purest, most uncontaminated contemporary translation of Jesus’ story about the rich man and Lazarus.

In a handwritten letter to the President of the United States, Alex asks “can you please go get him and bring him to our home?” These words flowed from the tender, unsullied heart of a child. “We will give him a family and he will be our brother.”

This is a parable for the ages, and we are living it right now. Alex and generations of children are watching, expecting us to do the right thing.

Nothing but the Best

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Investments can be tricky. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a crystal ball? Then we would know that our choices would be sound and we’d never lose a penny. Better yet, we’d have a windfall every quarter. But we don’t. And unless time is on our side or we have a fallback plan, we generally aren’t willing to take chances with our money or with anyone else’s. Besides, taking risks is, well, risky.

But Jesus has a different perspective. When Jesus really wants to make a point he tells a parable. Parables are stories that seem to be heading toward a predictable conclusion but then suddenly the rug is pulled out from under the listener. There’s always a surprise ending, and it is often one that takes time to understand, like today’s from Matthew 25:14-30.

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one–to each according to his ability. Then he went away.”

You know the story. The first two servants went out and doubled their investment. They jumped right in. They weren’t afraid, they did not circle their wagons or hide whatever it was under a mattress for safekeeping. They used it in the way it was intended and it increased.

The third servant lacked trust. He did not trust his own ability to make a good choice, he did not trust what the talent might become, and he did not trust the one who gave it to him. The only faith he had was in the status quo. So he kept it to himself. So sad. Choosing to hide what has been entrusted to us because we are afraid does a both disservice to the object and to ourselves. But it mostly offends the one who provided us with the opportunity.

The metaphor of talent as used in the parable can be applied to any number of things: money, skills, intellect, etc. but for the purposes of understanding what it means to be an evangelizing people, it might be helpful to think of Jesus as the talent. By virtue of our baptism we are charged with sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ in word and in action. We are called to invest ourselves in this task to the best of our ability and without fear. This is the story of Christianity and how it grew from a dozen or so believers to what it is today. So share it, increase it, enhance it, supplement it, prove it. Give nothing less than your best for God.

Today’s readings can be found here. 

The good seed. The good soil.

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

“The simple truth is that it all starts with the soil” says Will Allen, founder and CEO of Growing Power Inc., an urban farm and community food center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (www.growingpower.org). As one of the preeminent thinkers of our time on urban agriculture, vertical farming, and food policy, Allen’s organization actually produces the soil it uses. He continues, “without good soil, crops don’t get enough of the nutrients they need to survive and when plants are stressed, they are more prone to disease and pest problems.”

Parables are stories in which the meaning of one thing is explained with something else.  For Jesus, that something else would be an object familiar to certain members of his audience, but not to all: soil, seeds, yeast, pearls, treasure, fishing nets, and so on. The parable of the sower (MT 13:1-23) if read literally reveals both the plight of the farmer and its solution. Obviously, seed crops and yields were not Jesus’ focus, but to continue the soil metaphor it is worth noting that all seeds have within them the capacity for growth, but unless the soil is receptive, stress, disease and pests threaten to destroy what has been sown. The 4th century Theologian, Gregory Nyssa had a less nuanced explanation, “sin is the failure to grow.”

Presuming we all have ears and want to hear, there’s no better time than right now, in the height of the growing season to consider how we are at different times both the seed and the soil. The liturgical calendar also has returned us to ordinary time, which is represented by the color of nature, green. It is in ordinary time that we want the seeds of our faith to germinate. It is during this time that we cultivate the soil of our community garden.

Today’s readings can be found here. 

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