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26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle C)

Readings:
Amos 6:1, 4-7
Psalm 146:6b-10
1 Timothy 6:11-16
Luke 16:19-31

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

God reveals His divine plan for mankind in the two Testaments, and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: The Call to Repentance
This Sunday's readings are a continuation of the teachings from last Sunday's readings. In today's readings, we are called to repent our sins, to practice Christian virtues, and to heed the warning of the One who was raised from the dead (Lk 16:30) because the selfish and thoughtless who ignore human suffering will be held accountable.

In the First Reading, the prophet Amos accuses the rich and powerful of Israel of living in luxury while being blind to the misfortunes of the poor. He warns that their willful self-indulgence and their disregard for their covenant obligations to the disadvantaged will bring about the collapse of the Kingdom of Israel. Have they forgotten that God's promised blessings of temporal prosperity and protection for Israel is based upon covenant faithfulness and obedience in demonstrating love of God and neighbor? What good will the wealth of the rich do for them when God lifts His hand of protection, and they are overrun by foreign enemies who will confiscate all their material possessions?

The Responsorial Psalm reminds us that through the bounties of nature the Lord gives food to the hungry. However, sometimes He depends on the hands of the wealthy to distribute it fairly, just as He expects those who love Him to extend His love to those in need. This psalm presents the theme that in view of all the good things God does, that God deserves our trust.

In the Second Reading, St. Paul writes to St. Timothy, encouraging Timothy like a coach urging on his best athlete. Paul calls Timothy "man of God," a title that emphasizes both the office Timothy holds as God's representative to the Christian community at Ephesus and the demands of that office. "Man of God" is an Old Testament title reserved for Moses, David, and the prophets who were God's representatives to His people. Paul tells Timothy that to be an effective Christian leader requires total dedication to God and a fearless witness for Christ. This dedication should operate, says Paul, from faith, dedication to the commandments (being obedient to the will of God), and an awareness of the knowledge that Jesus will return (verse 14-16).

The First Reading serves as an introduction to the Gospel Reading where Jesus tells the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. Jesus' story illustrates His concern for justice and is a reflection of His blessings for the poor as well as His judgment of the cold hearted rich in His Sermon on the Plain (Lk 6:20-26). The contrast in the parable is between the rich man who had everything he could possibly want in life and Lazarus, a poor man who had nothing. Ironically when both men died, their conditions were reversed. In death, God gave poor Lazarus the justice he lacked in life as he awaited the coming of the Messiah in the company of the righteous. However, the rich man suffered in torment for his sins. It is a reversal of condition that Jesus uses to serve as a warning to the Pharisees and to everyone who despises and neglects the poor and afflicted while only caring about the temporal and not the eternal.

It is appropriate that these selected Scripture readings on the obligation of the wealthy to feed and meet the needs of the poor come during the late summer and early fall. We tend to think of the summer months as a time of joyful activities. However, in ancient times and in undeveloped countries in the modern world that have many poor, the late summer to early fall is called "the starving season." In the summer and early fall the people in ancient times had used up the last of their stores of food from the previous harvest; they had to go hungry and struggle to survive until the fall harvest. The same situation exists in poor countries today. Now is a good time to make a donation to Catholic Relief Services or Food for the Poor least you fall under the condemnation of the thoughtless and selfish rich when you face divine judgment and Christ asks you, "Did you feed me when I was hungry?" (Mt 25:31-46; Lk 6:24-25).

The First Reading Amos 6:1a, 4-7 ~ God's Judgment on The Wealthy Who Lack Compassion
1 Thus says the LORD the God of hosts: Woe to the complacent in Zion, to the overconfident on the mount of Samaria ...! 4 Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches, they eat lambs taken from the flock, and calves from the stall! 5 Improvising to the music of the harp, like David, they devise their own accompaniment. 6 They drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the best oils; yet they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph! 7 Therefore, now they shall be the first to go into exile, and their wanton revelry shall be done away with.

See the commentary on last Sunday's First Reading concerning the life of the shepherd-prophet Amos who lived in the age of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah. In the today's reading from the Book of Amos, God's messenger delivers a covenant judgment ("woe") against the complacent and uncaring wealthy of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. However, Amos' "woe" judgment should also be seen as being addressed to the uncaring wealthy of all generations.

We have added the phrase to the overconfident on the mount of Samaria from Amos 6:1, which is not in the lectionary reading, because it is essential to understanding Amos's message in our reading. This passage is the third in a series of "woes" (Amos 5:1, 18; Amos 6:1) and marks the start of the last section of this part of the Book of Amos. In verses 1-7 the prophet reproaches the people and their rulers who are proud and self-centered, whether they live in Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom, or in Zion. In this case a reference to Jerusalem, the capital of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Those wealthy and self-indulgent covenant people who lie on beds of ivory, anoint themselves with oil, and in their inflated egos spend their leisure time imagining that they can play their harps with the talent of the great King David (verses 4-6), are really no better than their pagan neighbors who do not know God in the bond of covenant unity.

The charge Amos lays against the rich and powerful is that they are living lives of luxury and are heedless of the misfortunes of the poor. Their willful self-indulgence and their disregard for their covenant obligations to the poor will bring "the collapse of Joseph" (verse 6). "Joseph" and "Ephraim" are symbolic titles for the Northern Kingdom of Israel (see Am 5:6). It was a prince of Ephraim from the tribe of Joseph who led the civil war against the Davidic king of the United Kingdom of Israel that resulted in the split into two kingdoms: the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah (1 Kng 11:26; 12:19-32).

The complacent and overconfident rich are symbols of Israel's failure to keep the covenant with Yahweh by being disobedient to the commandments and failing to heed the warnings of the prophets. God's prophets told the people that both kingdoms would face God's divine wrath for their covenant failures, but the Northern Kingdom, says Amos, will be the first to go into exile along with their rulers (verse 7). The prophecy of a future exile was fulfilled in 722 BC when the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom and disbursed the ten northern tribes into conquered pagan lands to the east (2 Kng 17:6-12).

Will divine judgment also be the fate of our nation as we wander far from God, becoming so self-absorbed that each person decides for himself or herself what is sinful and what is right behavior? Will God no longer cover our nation with His hand of protection now that we elect leaders who declare that we are no longer a Christian nation? Divine judgment is always meant to be redemptive. It is in the crucible of suffering that people and nations remember that they need God.

Responsorial Psalm 146:6b-10 ~ God is Gracious to Those in Need
Response: "Praise the Lord, my soul!" or "Alleluia."
6b Blessed is he who keeps faith forever, 7 secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets captives free.
Response:
8 The LORD gives sight to the blind; the LORD raises up those who were bowed down. The LORD loves the just; 9 the LORD protects strangers.
Response:
The fatherless and the widow he sustains, but the way of the wicked he thwarts. 10 The LORD shall reign forever; your God, O Zion, through all generations. Alleluia.
Response.

Through the bounties of nature the Lord gives food to the hungry, but sometimes He depends on the hands of the wealthy to distribute it fairly, just as He expects those who love Him to extend His love to those in need. This psalm presents the theme that, given all the good things God does, He deserves our trust (verses 6-9). In conclusion, the psalmist proclaims that God will reign forever.

The actions by which God manifests His goodness and His power in verses 7-9 were acts performed by Jesus during His three-year ministry. See Luke 4:16-21 where Jesus quotes the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1-2 and says the prophecy is fulfilled in Him. Jesus fulfilled the promises of the prophets when:

All His miracles were in fulfillment of the prophecies of the prophets (i.e. Is 26:19; 35:5-6; 42:7; 61:1), as Jesus told the disciples of John the Baptist who came to ask if He was indeed the promised Messiah (Lk 7:20). Jesus answered them, Go back and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind see again, the lame walk, those suffering from virulent skin-diseases are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the good news is proclaimed to the poor; and blessed is anyone who does not find me a cause of falling (Lk 7:22-23).

The Second Reading 1 Timothy 6:11-16 ~ The Pursuit of Christian Virtues
11 But to you, man of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. 12 Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I charge you before God, who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus, who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate for the noble confession, 14 to keep the commandments without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ 15 that the blessed and only ruler will make manifest at the proper time, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, and whom no human being has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal power. Amen.

St. Paul ordained St. Timothy to be the pastor of the faith community at Ephesus. Ephasis was an important Roman city at the mouth of the river Cayster in Western Asia Minor that Paul founded on his second missionary journey. On his third missionary journey, Paul stayed in Ephesus for two years (c. 56-58) and had a deep affection for the community. The church at Ephesus is the topic of St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians. Later, the Apostle St. John Zebedee will become the Bishop of Ephesus. The city is one of the seven churches in Asia Minor that Jesus Christ, in a post-Resurrected vision will command St. John to send letters to in the Book of Revelation (Rev 2:1-7). Jesus will praise the community for its orthodoxy and its perseverance in the faith, but will warn them that their works of charity have grown cold, lacking their past fervor.

In our passage, which comes near the conclusion of his letter, Paul becomes more insistent and serious, encouraging Timothy like a coach urging on his best athlete. He calls him "man of God" (verse 11), a title that emphasizes both the office Timothy holds as God's representative to the Christian community and the demands of that office. "Man of God" is an Old Testament title reserved for Moses, David, and the prophets.
Moses the "man of God":

David the "man of God":

The prophet the "man of God":

In verse 11 Paul lists the Christian virtues Timothy must pursue to be effective in his ministry: pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Then, making use of his favored sports analogies in verse 12, he urges Timothy to "compete well for the faith," and like a wrestler to "lay hold of eternal life." Paul reminds Timothy of the day he was baptized, when "in the presence of many witnesses" (both on earth and in heaven), he made his profession of faith and turned his life over to Jesus Christ. Next, Paul reminds Timothy that his position of leadership within the Church and his profession of faith in Christ require total dedication to God and a fearless witness for Christ. This dedication should operate, says Paul, from faith, dedication to the commandments (being obedient to the will of God), and an awareness of the knowledge that Jesus will return (verse 14-16).

When Paul mentions Jesus' testimony at His trial before Pilate (verse 13), he is probably referring to Jesus' testimony of His kingship in Matthew 27:11 and John 18:37 or His bearing witness to the "truth" in John 18:37. The Greek word in verse 14 translated "appearing" is epiphany. It is a word Paul uses in the Pastoral letters in reference to the Parousia, the "coming" of Christ (as in 1 Cor 15:23) or "apocalypse," meaning the "revealing" of Christ (as in 1 Co 1:7).
As a technical term, it is used in two ways:

  1. For the manifestation of Christ in his triumphal return at the end of the Age of Man (2 Tim 4:1, 8; Tit 2:13; Heb 9:28) and
  2. For His first Advent and appearance in the world for the saving action of His life, death and resurrection (2 Tim 1:10; Tit 2:11; 3:4).

The goal of all of Timothy's striving is the "appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ," whether that "appearance" occurs at the end of Timothy's earthly life or if Jesus returns before Timothy's faith journey is complete.

<15 ...that the blessed and only ruler will make manifest at the proper time, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, and whom no human being has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal power. Amen.
Paul frequently concludes a teaching with a hymn of praise or doxology as he does in verses 15-16. Paul believes that the "appearance" of Jesus Christ, whether at the moment of one's physical death or Jesus return at the end of the age, is the climax of Christian life, but in these verses, he seems to be referring to Jesus' return in glory at the end of time. The climax of human history will happen "at the proper time" (verse 15), perhaps a warning not to be impatient for His coming. Paul describes Jesus as "the blessed and only ruler," a reminder that earthly rulers like the Roman emperor are humans who have only temporal power (see Jesus statement to Pilate in Jn 19:11), while Christ is immortal and reigns as "King of kings and Lord of lords." It is a dangerous statement that Paul makes placing Jesus above the Roman emperor. In affirming that God alone has immortality, Paul is referring to the pretenses of the Roman emperors to what God alone possesses (Emperor Augustus Ceasar was deified by the Roman Senate and worshiped as a god. Emperors Tiberius, Caligula and Nero also declared themselves gods).

...who dwells in unapproachable light, and whom no human being has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal power. Amen.
In the Old Testament "light" was one of the phenomena associated with divine revelation; for example:

In verse 16 Paul affirms that this light makes God unapproachable to humans (Job 37:24; Ex 33:20). However, the New Testament gives the assurance that Jesus is approachable. Christ is "the Light of the world" (Jn 1:7-9; 8:12) as God is light (1 Jn 1:5-7). One day the faithful in their heavenly life will be able to approach Him and enjoy the light of God (Rev 22:5). Paul then gives his final acclamation to the one to whom all "honor and eternal power" belong; this is the eternal God of Timothy and Paul and all Christians.

The Gospel Reading Luke 16:19-31 ~ The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man
19 "There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. 20 And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. 22 When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he cried out, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.' 25 Abraham replied, 'My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. 26 Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from our side to ours.' 27 He said, 'Then I beg you, father, send him to my father's house, 28 for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment. 29 But Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.' 30 He said, 'Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' 31 Then Abraham said, 'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.'"

Two of the teachings in Luke chapter 16 deal with the use or abuse of money/wealth: The Parable of the Dishonest Steward in Luke 16:1-13 (last Sunday's Gospel reading) and the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man in 16:19-31 (this Sunday's Gospel reading). A condemnation of the Pharisees for their love of money and two other teachings about the Law separate these two parables. The focus of final teaching about wealth is the inevitable judgment of the rich for their lack of compassion for the poor.

The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man illustrates Jesus' concern for justice and is a reflection of His blessings for the poor as well as His judgment of the cold hearted rich in His Sermon on the Plain (Lk 6:20-26). The man called Lazarus in this story is not the same Lazarus who is the brother of Martha and Mary who Jesus raised from the dead (Jn 11:1-43; 12:1-17). The Lazarus in this parable is a homeless beggar who, after his death, resides on the righteous side of Sheol, the abode of the dead called "Hades" in the Greek. The brother of Martha and Mary lived in Bethany and was resurrected by Jesus after which he continued to live out a normal life. That the rich man wore "purple garments" (verse 19) is a sign of his great wealth. Purple cloth was the most expensive textile available in the ancient world. The dye came from a tiny sea mollusk. Only the wealthiest individuals could afford cloth dyed purple, which is why it was the color of the garments of kings and rulers.

"Abraham's bosom" in verse 22 was what the righteous part/state of Sheol was called in Jesus' time. Sheol was divided into the waiting place of the righteous and the place of punishment and purification for sinners. As the Catechism teaches: "Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, 'hell'-Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek-because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into 'Abraham's bosom': 'It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham's bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell[Hades]'"(Roman Catechism I, 6, 3). "Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him."

St. Peter wrote: For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water ... 4:6 For this is why the Gospel was preached even to the dead that, though condemned in the flesh in human estimation, they might live in the spirit in the estimation of God (1 Pt 3:18-20; 4:6).

The contrast in this parable is between the rich man who had everything he could possibly want in life and Lazarus, a poor man who had nothing. Ironically, when both men died, their conditions were reversed. God gave poor Lazarus justice in Sheol/Hades, the abode of the dead into which all men and women went before the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The rich man suffered in torment for his sins while Lazarus received the justice he lacked in life as he awaited the coming of the Messiah in the company of the righteous. It is a reversal of condition that Jesus uses to serve as a warning to the Pharisees and others in the crowd who despise and neglect the poor and afflicted while loving money.

The rich man petitions the spirit of Abraham, the father of the covenant people, two times (verses 24 and 27-28). The first time he asks Abraham to ease his suffering by sending Lazarus to give him a little water. Father Abraham replies that it is not in his power to interfere with God's divine judgment concerning the man's punishment (verses 25-26). Then in verses 27-28 the rich man petitions the spirit of Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers to mend their ways so that they will not die and find themselves in the same torment in which he finds himself. Father Abraham denies his petition a second time... But Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.' The spirit of Abraham is referring to the Sacred Scriptures written by Moses and the prophets that God gave His people to teach them the path to righteousness and salvation.

30 He said, 'Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' 31 Then Abraham said, 'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.'"
The rich man tries to convince Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers by saying that his brothers would believe someone who returned from the dead. In the parable, Abraham tells the rich man if his brothers won't listen to Moses and the Prophets (in Scripture), they will also not listen to someone who was raised from the dead. The irony is that Jesus fulfills the prophecies of Moses and the prophets; He will arise from the dead and yet many will still refuse to believe!

The Symbolic Significance of the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man
The rich man The wealthy who abuse God's blessings when they ignore the plight of the poor
Poor Lazarus The poor and disadvantaged of the world
Sheol/Hades The condition of divine judgment and purification
Abraham The hereditary father of the Old Covenant people and a symbol of the blessings and wisdom of the just
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013

One question to consider is why is it that poor Lazarus is the only man named in the parable? Why is the rich man's name not recorded? The description of the Last Judgment in Revelation 20:11-15: Next I saw a large white throne and the one who was sitting on it. The earth and the sky fled from his presence and there was no place for them. I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the Book of Life. The dead were judged according to their deeds by what was written in the scrolls ... Anyone whose name was not found written in the Book of Life was thrown into the pool of fire (Rev 20:11-12, 15). It is a warning for those of us in every generation of believers who read this parable. Just as the names of the righteous are recorded and remembered in the Book of Life and the Deeds in the heavenly Sanctuary, Lazarus' name is remembered in Sacred Scripture. However, just as SCripture does not provide the rich man's name, the names those who abuse God's material blessings and do not have mercy on the poor and disadvantaged will not be recorded or remembered in the Book of Life.

Since Christ had not yet come into His glory by His resurrection from the dead, the rich man in the parable would have still had the opportunity of eternal salvation. In Sheol he and sinners like him were being purified of their sins (Wis 3:1-12). The rich man was not totally lost because he still had love and concern for the sins of his brothers (those consigned to the Hell of the damned are completely cut off from God and feel no love). All those in Sheol, including the sinners who were being purified by the fiery love of God and the righteous, had the opportunity to hear the Gospel of salvation preached by Jesus when He descended the dead from His tomb. At that time He took those purified souls into the realm of His heavenly kingdom (1 Pt 3:18-20; 4:6; CCC 631-35).

Sheol/Hades still has a purpose and exists as a place/state of purification until the Last Judgment when both Sheol/Hades and death will be cast into the Lake of Fire that is the Hell of the damned (Rev 20:14). In the Final Age of man, blessings are eternal and so are judgments; therefore, Sheol/Hades no longer holds either the pure souls of the righteous, nor does it hold the souls of the wicked who deny Christ and His gift of salvation. Sheol remains a place/state of purification for those souls judged worthy of salvation but who still need purification for unconfessed venial sins or mortal sins that have been forgiven but for which full penance has not been made before being released into the presence of God (1 Cor 3:12-15). Catholics call this state Purgatory, which means the "place of purification" (CCC 1030-32).

Catechism References:
1 Timothy 6:12 (CCC 2145); 6:15-16 (CCC 2641); 6:16 (CCC 52)
Luke 16:19-31 (CCC 1859, 2831); 16:22-16 (CCC 633)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013