Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Little Irritation

Readings for Sunday, September 26:

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

The challenge of every homily is to take what the scriptures speak about or what the Church is trying to show us about the faith and to make that apply to the life of those who hear it, the one preaching included. So when we hear the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the question must be asked ‘How does this apply to me? What does this have to do with my life today?’ Looking briefly at the gospel we find the rich man is faced daily with the presence of Lazarus, who lay at his doorstep, and had to choose whether to help Lazarus or not to help Lazarus. Can you think of a time when we are faced with a similar situation?

The situation that comes to my mind is when I get off the interstate and there is a homeless man with the sign asking for help. As he walks back and forth asking for money, I am faced with a decision – help him or ignore him. When this happens, I find that I usually have one of three reactions. Sometimes I will acknowledge them and give them a couple of bucks and a prayer card or religious medal. Other times I act like I’m busy looking for something or turn the other way so I won’t feel so bad for ignoring them. Then there are other times that I hope that the light turns green before he gets to my car, because then I can make myself feel better by saying ‘I would have helped him, but I didn’t want to stop traffic.’ Another example is the telephone. With caller-id on most of our phones, how often do we look at the phone and see that so-and-so is calling and we really just don’t want to talk to them because they bother us? Again, that decision to ignore them or to respond to them.

No matter which option I choose in either of those situations, there is usually some sort of uneasiness that I experience either because I don’t respond to them or because I do respond but not because I actually want to interact with them. There’s always an uneasiness, an irritation if you will. That irritation, though, is actually a point for grace to come into the scene. Think about an oyster; when a foreign substance like a piece of sand gets into the shell, it reacts to it and what results is a beautiful pearl. An irritant at first becomes a great treasure to the world, all because the oyster reacted to its presence.

If we look again at the gospel reading, we will find that the rich man wore fine purple garments and fine linens, often a sign of royalty, and that he dined sumptuously everyday. Simply put, he was living a pretty good life. Was this his sin though? Was the sin that earned him condemnation the fact that he had money and lived well? No! Money is a good thing and those who have it are certainly blessed. The problem comes in when money and riches are too highly valued, as we heard last week. The prophet Amos spoke in our first reading about how the people had become complacent because they were eating the finest foods and living the high life; but his focus was not truly their riches but their complacency that resulted from it. This is what we have in the case of the rich man from the gospel. His problem was that he has focused so much on all of his comfortable things that he began to isolate himself both from those around him and from the Lord himself. In a real sense, he became wholly self-absorbed and so was unable to respond to those in need. And this is where his sin is found - not in having riches, nor in any grave sins, but in simply ignoring Lazarus, in being unable to care for anyone other than himself. By failing to respond to the ‘irritant’ that Lazarus was in his daily life, the rich man missed out on the possibility of having that great treasure grow within him.

And what is that great treasure? Salvation. Lazarus was there as an opportunity for the rich man to reach out to others rather than simply serve himself and by failing to respond time and again to Lazarus’ presence, the rich man effectively walked past his salvation and said ‘no thanks’.

So the next time you see that guy at the red light asking for change, or someone you don’t want to talk to is calling you, or any other situation that demands that we make a decision to either ignore or respond, consider what great treasure might be gained by being willing to respond or what treasure might be lost by failing to do so.