Opening reflection (taken from Magnificat magazine, www.magnificat.com): Perhaps the most scandalous thing about the parable of the rich man is that the sore-ridden beggar “lying at his door” was not some anonymous, faceless stranger, for the first one to speak the name of the “poor man” – “Lazarus” – was the rich man! “Woe to the complacent in Zion,” for their complacency not only deprives the poor of what they need – it goes so far as to deny their very humanity, their personal dignity. To steer clear of this temptation, we “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness.” “The King of kings and Lord of lords” dwells in unapproachable light – a light that He shares with us so that we will approach the poor who dwell with us.
(This weekend's Scripture readings are available in the New American Bible translation at the Vatican’s English website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM.)
First Reading: Amos 6:1a, 4-7 (Revised Standard Version)
A reading from the book of the prophet Amos.
Thus says the LORD, the God of hosts:
"Woe to those who are at ease in Zion!
Woe to those who lie upon beds of ivory,
and stretch themselves upon their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock,
and calves from the midst of the stall;
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp,
and like David invent for themselves instruments of music;
who drink wine in bowls,
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
Therefore they shall now be the first of those to go into exile,
and the revelry of those who stretch themselves shall pass away."
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: Last weekend's meditations presented the background of Amos and his prophecies. He spoke during a time when the divided Israelite kingdoms were experiencing great prosperity. Though he mainly preached in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the first verse of this reading – which refers to “Zion,” meaning Jerusalem – indicates that his warnings applied to the Southern Kingdom of Judah as well. (An omitted verse following the “Zion” verse confirms that all Israel, north and south, was the target of this particular passage.)
God, speaking through Amos, is disgusted with the spectacle presented by the well-to-do of both kingdoms. They are enjoying the pleasures of food and entertainment without a care in the world – an attitude not unlike that of their forebears during the glory days of King Solomon. Now, as then, the wealthy Israelites and the ruling class have forgotten their duties to their poorer brothers and sisters. Worse, they don't seem to care.
The term “collapse of Joseph” suggests that the moral and economic decay was greater in the Northern Kingdom, since the tribes descended from Joseph's two sons – Manasseh and especially Ephraim – dominated the 10 northern tribes. Indeed, the north had been consistently unfaithful, even idolatrous, since it rebelled against David's house, declared independence and set up golden calves (of all choices!) to keep the people from traveling to Jerusalem and the Temple to worship. But though Judah had remained more or less faithful to God, were the people of the south sufficiently concerned about their own poor or the spiritual state of their separated brethren? Amos strongly suggests that the answer is “no.”
In any case, the judgment Amos delivers is directed mainly at the upper crust of both kingdoms. They would be the first exiled from the Promised Land when God permitted their powerful neighbors to take control of Palestine. And it came to pass. Only half a century after Amos, Assyria conquered the 10 northern tribes, exiled their one-time rich and powerful and left the poorer Israelites behind. (Other people, sent from Assyria to replace the exiles, would intermarry with the northern remnant to form the Samaritans of Jesus' day.) And, in time, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon would cart off Judah's ruling class, destroy the Temple and Jerusalem and leave the poorest Judeans behind.
The “wanton revelry” indeed did cease. Only when Israel returned to Yahweh would Zion be restored.
Second Reading: 1 Timothy 6:11-16
A reading from the first letter of St. Paul to Timothy.
But as for you, man of God, shun all this; aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: The specific context of the passage, and the entirety of 1 Timothy, arises from Paul's assignment of his longtime protege and companion to the church at Ephesus that Paul himself had founded during his third missionary journey. Timothy eventually became the acknowledged bishop of Ephesus; it's not clear when this first letter was written or whether Paul is addressing him as a full-fledged bishop (as he clearly was in 2 Timothy, written not long before Paul's execution) or merely as Paul's apostolic delegate to Ephesus (remembering that Paul, as “apostle to the Gentiles,” was essentially an itinerant bishop directly appointed by Christ Himself).
In other parts of 1 Timothy, Paul gives instructions about the qualifications and duties of priests (elders) and deacons. This passage, though, most certainly applies to all who call themselves Christians. The “good confession” that Timothy made “in the presence of many witnesses” could indicate any step in his faith journey – his baptism, his confirmation or his ordination. In any case, when we are fully initiated into the Christian faith, we declare ourselves to be disciples of Jesus Christ. We associate ourselves with His Passion, including His testimony before Pilate that He was called “to give witness to the truth.” May we all “fight the good fight of the faith” as Paul charges Timothy to do – and, as Paul himself contends in his final letter, he himself did from the Damascus road to his martyrdom in Rome.
Gospel: Luke 16:19-31
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke. Glory to You, O Lord.
Jesus said to the Pharisees: "There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.' But Abraham said, `Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.' And he said, `Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.' But Abraham said, `They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, `No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, `If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'"
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
Meditation: Readers have many things to ponder in this fascinating parable. There's Jesus' direct testimony to the nature of Jewish belief in the afterlife in his day (at least for all those who were not among the Sadducees, who famously rejected the idea of resurrection). As He has not yet died and risen Himself, His description of some souls in “Abraham's bosom” and others in torment in “Hades” indicates that both were in a waiting place – divided by a chasm – until Christ “descended into hell” to preach to “the spirits in prison” and bring them to heaven, leaving those who died unrepentant behind.
Once again, though, the Old Testament reading is paired with the Gospel reading for a reason. One can easily see that the rich man is as lost in his daily revelry and unconcerned about the fate of the poor as the Israelites whom Amos condemned. He even knows poor Lazarus by name – and he never lifts a finger to help him. Even once he has been sent to the rough side of Hades, and he sees Lazarus with Abraham, his first concern is simply how Lazarus can help him (or at least his brothers). Abraham matter-of-factly tells the rich man that, to be blunt, it's Lazarus' turn to be comforted.
The closing words should bring a chill to anyone remotely concerned with his or her eternal fate. God has told us, through “Moses and the prophets” (the Old Testament) and the teachings of Jesus and His disciples (the New Testament), how we may be saved and how we are to live. We have the keys to eternal life – if only we will use them. And yet so many reject them or ignore them. For them, even the reality of Christ's Resurrection may not be enough. The fate declared for them is not a punishment; it is simply a prophecy, a confirmation of a decision that they themselves made in life at the moment of death. What a needless exile! But we dare not look the other way. We, as members of the Body of Christ, must do all we can to bring them to the place God really wants them to be: in His bosom forever.
Close with individual prayer, followed by Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be