AD SENSE

26 Sunday C - Lazarus - Jesus Turns Tables

From Fr. Jude Botelho:

Amos speaks to the wealthy people in Zion close to the mountains of Samaria, who feel secure with their wealth and riches. They spend their time in comfort sprawled on their divans, wining and dining in luxury. “Woe to you” he warns them, “your music and revelry will be reduced to silence and sorrow.” Amos is the prophet of social justice and he chastises those who enjoy themselves at the expense of the poor. A prophet in spite of himself, he slashes at the wealthy families of the northern kingdom. Their indifference to the miseries of the poor and their insensitivities to the ruin of the northern kingdom will be punished by exile. Amos points to the shallowness, of comfort and security provided by wealth.


Caring and sharing with the poor
Dr. Samuel Johnson was a great lexicographer, writer, critic and conversationalist. He was the first one to make an attempt to write the English Dictionary. William Barclay gives this account of his kindness and generosity. “Surely one of the loveliest pictures in literary history is the picture of Johnson, in his own days of poverty, coming home in the small hours of the morning, as he walked along the Strand, slipping pennies into the hands of waifs and strays who were sleeping in the doorways because they had nowhere else to go.” When someone asked him how he could bear to have his house filled with ‘necessitous and undeserving people’, Johnson answered, “If I did not assist them no one else would, and they must not be lost for want.” Dr. Johnson cared and was concerned about the beggars and the strays that flocked to him.
John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells the story of a rich man and a poor man. The rich man dresses magnificently and feasts lavishly every day. The rich man is not only rich in clothes and food but is also rich in privileges and in the freedom he enjoys from all that besets the poor. His privilege conceals from him his responsibilities; it blinds him to the man who lies at his own gate. He is not a bad man but one who is wrapped up in his own world, insensitive to the needs of others around him. In contrast to the rich man there is Lazarus, who is clothed in rags and covered with sores. Lying at the gate, he has no food. He does not beg for food, but hopes for scraps that fall from the master’s table, which the dogs fight for. He is in need, but whom no one cares for. He dies at the gate of the rich man and is buried. The next scene is after-life where there is a reversal of fortunes. Lazarus is now well dressed and enjoying the heavenly banquet. In contrast the rich man is in torment and in flames. This agony creates awareness and compassion for his brothers and he hopes Lazarus can return to earth to warn them. His regret and compassion are not enough and no warning can be given to his brothers. They have the teachings of scripture to warn them and the poor at their gates could be their salvation. Like the brothers on earth, we have the scripture to warn us of the dangers of riches and overindulgence, and we have Lazarus –the poor at our gates. We also have someone who did rise from the dead who constantly reminds us of the way to heaven. That is more than enough.

Vanity of Wealth
The famous Greek law-giver Solon once went on a vacation to the town of Lydia, in what is now the country of Turkey. It boasted to have the richest king in the world, named Croesus. Solon, the great philosopher, -quite detached from all possessions of this world –decided to visit the man who seemed to find all his happiness in wealth. As soon as he got to the place, Croesus decided to show his vaults. “What do you think of that?” he demanded triumphantly. But Solon kept silent and so the king went on, “Who do you think is the happiest man in the world?” The philosopher thought for a moment, and then named two obscure Greeks whose names Croesus had never heard before. The king was angry of being cheated out of a compliment, so he asked sharply for an explanation. Solon answered, “No man, my friend, can be considered really happy whose heart is wedded to material things. They pass and their owner becomes a widow. To the widows, belongs grief. Or to the man himself who passes away, and can take none of his gold with him. Again it is only grief.”
Frank Michalic in ‘1000 stories you can use’

Schweitzer and the Poor
Albert Schweitzer has been acclaimed the world over as a multiple genius. He was an outstanding philosopher, a reputable theologian, a respected historian, a concert soloist, and a missionary doctor. But the most remarkable thing about him was his deep Christian faith. It was a faith that influenced even the smallest details of his life. At the age of 21, Schweitzer promised himself that he would enjoy art and science until he was 30. Then he would devote the rest of his life to working among the needy in some direct form of service. And so on his 30th birthday, on October 13, 1905, he dropped several letters into a Paris mailbox. They were to his parents and closest friends, informing them that he was going to enroll in the university to get a degree in medicine. After that he was going to Africa to work among the poor as a missionary doctor. The letters created a stir and many berated him and questioned his decision. Nevertheless, Schweitzer stuck to his guns. At the age of 38, he became a full-fledged medical doctor. At the age of 43, he left for Africa where he opened a hospital at the edge of the jungle in what was then called Equatorial Africa. He died there in 1965 at the age of 90. What motivated Albert Schweitzer to turn his back on worldly fame and wealth and work among the poorest of the poor in Africa? He said that one of the influences was his meditation on today’s gospel about the rich man and Lazarus. He said: “It struck me as incomprehensible that I should be allowed to live such a happy life, while so many people around me were wresting with…..suffering.”
Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’

Do you care?
A man came home from work late and tired. He found his five-year-old son waiting for him at the door. ‘Daddy, may I ask you a question?’ ‘Yeah, sure, what is it?’ replied the dad. ‘Daddy, how much money do you make an hour?’ ‘That’s none of your business! What makes you ask such a thing?’ the man said angrily. ‘I just want to know. Please tell me, how much do you make an hour?’ pleaded the little boy. ‘If you must know, I make $20 an hour.’ ‘Oh,’ the little boy sighed, head bowed. Looking up, he asked ‘Daddy, may I borrow $10 please?’ The father was furious. ‘If the only reason you want to know how much I earn an hour is just so you can buy a silly toy or some other nonsense, then you can march yourself straight to your room, and go to bed. I work hard hours every day, and don’t have time for such childish games.’ The little boy went quietly to his room, and closed the door. The man sat down, and began to get even more annoyed about his son’s attitude. How dare he ask such questions, just to get some money? After an hour or so he calmed down, and began to think that he may have been a little hard on his son. Perhaps there was something his son really needed to buy with that $10, and he really didn’t ask for money very often. The man went to the door of the little boy’s room, and opened it. ‘Are you asleep, son?’ he asked. “No, daddy, I’m awake,’ replied the boy. ‘I’ve been thinking. Maybe I was too hard on you earlier,’ said the man. ‘I’ve had a long day, and I took annoyance out on you. Here’s that $10 you asked for.’ The little lad sat straight upright, beaming. ‘Oh, thank you, daddy!’ he exclaimed. Then, reaching under his pillow, he pulled out some more crumpled notes. The man, seeing the boy already has money, began to get angry again. The boy slowly counted out his money, and then he looked up at his dad. ‘Why did you want more money if you already had some?’ the father demanded. ‘Because I didn’t have enough, but now I do,’ the boy replied. ‘Daddy, I want to give you this $20, if you’ll spend an hour with me.’
Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel truth!’

*****

Andrew Greeley


Background:

Today’s story is just that, a story. Jesus is not endorsing any particular theology of the hereafter. He is rather making the point that we should seize all the opportunities for charity and responsibility which come along in our life.  

We only go around once as the old beer add used to tell us. Hence we must not so much as grab the glistening beer bottle as pursue all the opportunities to do good that we encounter. 

Story:

Once upon a time two girls joined Molly Whoopy’s girl’s basketball team at Mother Mary High School. They were very good players, but they didn’t like to practice hard. One of them became a starter and the other sixth person. During games they played real hard, but because they didn’t practice much and didn’t listen to the coach’s talks, and made all kinds of mistakes. The coach goes to Molly, like, maybe we should throw them off the team. Sondra and Sonia, for that were their names, began to campaign to stay on the team. They were cute and funny and charming. They talked to every girl on the team, they tried to charm the coach, they had a party for the team, they gave the other players presents, they even showed up on time for practice, though they didn’t practice very hard. They took Molly to the ice cream store at the Mall and bought her a double chocolate malt with whipped cream because they knew Molly was a chocolate freak. 

 Finally, they’re like, “Molly, you know, we’ve been real dweebs, you know, but we, you know really want to stay on the team.” But Molly’s like, “if you had put in as much time and energy on practice as you have on charming everyone, then we’d be in first place. I’m like telling the coach you should be 11th and 12th on the team and earn your way back up. They weren’t very happy with that decision because, you know there are only ten players on team. But Molly goes to her boyfriend Joe, “Why didn’t they work at basketball.” And Joe’s like “it’s easier to buy you a double chocolate malt.” And Molly’s like WELL, it didn’t do them any good.”

2.     Connections: 

The gospel of poverty

Once there was a priest sent to a poor village in the mountains.  On his first day there, he gathered up all the bread and blankets and medicine he could and began to visit his parishioners.

At the first hut, a mother was caring for a child sick with a fever.  Father watched as she nestled the child in her arms, wiping the boy’s face with a wet rag.  For hours she held the child, patiently wiping his brow, whispering a little song as he slept.  Father blessed the child and his mother, left some medicine, and went on his way.

At another house, Father arrived in time for supper.  The mother had prepared a weak soup of water and a few vegetables she had begged that day.  She happily welcomed the priest and offered him a small cup.  As he took the soup and joined the other members of the family, he did not see a cup or bowl for the mother.  He blessed the family, left some bread, and moved on.

As he arrived at the last house, a cold rain began to fall.  An elderly couple lived there.  The small fire offered little warmth from the damp cold.  The old woman was lying on a mat, trying to sleep.  She grasped the threadbare blanket around her to keep warm.  Her husband had taken off his own tattered coat and tucked it around her, then sat beside her and rubbed her back to help keep her warm.  Father blessed them both, left blankets for them, and returned to his own small house.

That night, having given away all of the food and medicine and blankets he had, the priest sat down and looked at his now empty cupboard and realized that he had been the one who was blessed that day.

Jesus calls his disciples not only to care for the poor but also to learn from the poor.  The Lazaruses in our midst can teach us a great deal about compassion and generosity; in their poverty, they can show us how to possess real treasures of life; in their humility, they reflect the dignity of being made in the very image of God.  The rich man of today’s Gospel and the “worthless rich” excoriated by the prophet Amos (today’s first reading) are too self-absorbed and satisfied to grasp the wisdom that the poor have to teach them: that the many blessings they -- and we -- have been given by God are a responsibility and a means to realize God’s dream of a just and merciful community of humanity.

**********
3.     Dr. Albert Schweitzer
What parable would make a man with three doctoral degrees (one in medicine, one in theology, one in philosophy) leave civilization with all of its culture and amenities and depart for the jungles of darkest Africa? What parable could induce a man, who was recognized as one of the best concert organists in all of Europe, go to a place where there were no organs to play. What parable would so intensely motivate a man that he would give up a teaching position in Vienna, Austria to go and deal with people who were so deprived that they were still living in the superstitions of the dark ages for all practical purposes. The man who I am talking about, of course, is Dr. Albert Schweitzer. And the single parable that so radically altered his life, according to him, was our text for this morning. It was the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
The Rich Man and Lazarus were neighbors, you know. They saw each other every day. Oh, not socially you understand, but there was contact. Every day the Rich Man saw this beggar at his front gate. Who were these men? 
We shall call the Rich Man Dives [pronounced 'Dive-ees': it's Latin for "Rich Man" as he has been called for centuries] Dives would have felt very comfortable living in our present time. He was a progressive kind of a guy. He was self-indulgent and this is the age of self-indulgency. The contrasting life-styles of these two men is so obvious that you can't miss it. Dives was a connoisseur, a lover of the arts, one who knows and appreciates fine living, four star restaurants. 
We are told in vs. 19 that he habitually dressed in purple. Purple was known as the color of royalty because it was the most expensive dye in the ancient world. Only the upper echelon and the high priest could afford it. We are also told that his undergarments were made of fine linen. Linen, the lifestyle of the rich and famous. 

The other man in the story is Lazarus. How can we describe Lazarus? Lararus is homeless. We are told in vs. 20 that he was a cripple. Lazarus barely made it from day to day, living off the leftovers thrown to him by Dives as he daily passed him. He is just a survivor, that's all you can say of him...
4.     We are all one family 
We are all about family. The truth is, the problem is, we are all about OTHER people's families.  
The most popular show on television today? "Duck Dynasty." After that there are the programs about "The Kardashians," "Housewives," of various zip codes, and "Hoarders." We like to spy-glass at the inner-workings of family relationships that we can keep at arm's length - or TIVO for a later, more convenient time.
Our own family relationships cannot be put on hold. Whether it is a teething infant, a tantrum-tossing toddler, a hormone-hosed teenager, a suffering spouse, or an aging parent - we have to deal with our family in "real time" not unreal reality tv time. Those with whom we have a true connection don't just get our attention when it is convenient. That is what makes us a "family." 
Jesus' parable in this week's gospel text is almost too familiar for our ears to hear the real challenge that it offers. It is easy to read about a rich, self-absorbed, politically important man who is so involved in his own life, so busy orchestrating his own pleasures and perks, that he completely ignores the plight of Lazarus, a man who falls inside his gate, but far outside his pay-grade.  
But that is not the shock-treatment that Jesus' parable is administering. The Pharisees to whom Jesus was speaking would not be surprised that a wealthy man who totally rejected laws of alms-giving and care for the poor ended up in the hot-house of Hades. The righteous minded, Torah toeing, jot-and-tittle crossing Pharisees would have seen that as completely acceptable. So Jesus does NOT portray some ultimate "bad guy" tossing poor Lazarus to the curb. Instead Jesus offered a picture of first-century, socially acceptable compassion, extended by this incredibly wealthy man, to an incredibly unacceptable person... 
5.     The Violence of Apathy 
This parable targets the violence of apathy and neglect which is widening the chasm between rich and poor. The trouble is that even such abstractions become easy to live with. We need some firsthand experience of encountering the real people whom we will then not be able to dismiss as relative statistics. And if that cannot be first hand, we need to help people engage in active imagination of what it really means to be poor, to be a refugee, to be caught on the wrong side of the chasms which vested interests maintain.
William Loader, First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages from the Lectionary
______________________________________
6.     The Trouble with Generalization
 Whenever we generalize people -- the poor, the rich, the elderly, teenagers, the clergy, the laity, etc., we dehumanize them. I was visiting a large church when I heard one of the members state that he didn't like women pastors. This surprised me. I asked him, "What about Sally?" Sally was one of the three clergy at the church. "Oh, Sally...she's different!" was the reply. This female clergy had a name -- and with that, a relationship with this member. That, I think, was the difference.

We may be tempted to generalize the rich -- since so few of us belong to that category. The rich man is not named, but he is also not condemned for being rich, but for his indifference and uncaring attitude towards poor Lazarus right outside his door. Remember that Abraham was wealthy, and he isn't in the place of torment.

Brian Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes
_________________________________________
7.     Who Have We Been Trampling? There is an ancient story about a botanist who was studying the heather bell found in the highlands of Scotland. While looking through his microscope at this beautiful flower, he was approached by a shepherd who asked what he was doing. Rather than trying to explain, the botanist invited the shepherd to peer through his microscope and observe for himself. When the shepherd saw the wonder of the flower, he exclaimed, "My God, and I have been tramping on them all my life!"

Is that the word of warning we need? Wake up! Pay attention! Look around you. You may be tramping on the heart of someone nearby. Who is the Lazarus at your gate?


King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
_______________________
8.     The Torment of the Mature

"The torment of the dead is that they cannot warn the living, just as it is the torment of the mature that the erring young will not listen to them."
Dr. Helmut Thielicke
______________________
9.     The Stopped Up Dam 

There was a beautiful lake that lost its zesty freshness. The water formerly had been clear. It was alluring to animals and people alike. But it became covered with a green scum. The farm animals became ill from drinking the water. Finally someone came by the lake who understood the problem. Debris collecting from the hard spring rains had stopped up the dam and prevented the free flow of water, not into the lake, but out of the lake. The spillway was cleared, and soon the lake was fresh and clean again. The flow in and out was necessary to keep the water pure! 

Doesn't the same principle apply to you and me as human beings? The blessings of life flow to you and me, but we fail to realize that most of these blessings are not meant just to flow to us, but through us, for the good of others around us, especially for those in need. 

Richard W. Patt, All Stirred Up, CSS Publishing
______________________
He who lives only to benefit himself confers on the world a benefit when he dies.
Tertullian
______________________
10.  Drowsy Living 
There is a sign series on the West Virginia Turnpike that says, "Driving while drowsy can put you to sleep - permanently." Drowsy, uncaring living can put us to sleep - permanently. That kind of person, Jesus says, is separating himself from God until it becomes permanent, by digging a chasm between himself and heaven that even the love of God cannot bridge. 
Carveth Mitchell, The Sign in the Subway, CSS Publishing Company
______________________
11.  Habituation 
A noisy elevated train used to run along Third Avenue in New York City. After it was torn down, "many people in the neighborhood began to call the police quite late to report something strange occurring " unusual noises, suspected thieves or burglars. . . . The police determined that these calls took place at about the time the former late-night train would have passed these people's houses. What they were hearing' was the absence of the familiar noise of the train." They had grown habituated to this particular noise. Now they would have to become habituated to its absence. Habituation. Growing so accustomed to something that we no longer even realize it is there.
King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
____________________________
12.  The Only Thing You Have 
Dr. Leo Buscalgia tells of an experience he had in Cambodia years ago. He noticed that during monsoon season the people's way of life changed. The great rains washed away their houses, so the people lived on great communal rafts, several families together. Dr. Buscalgia writes: "I went down there on a bicycle and there they were. I thought I'd help these people move and become part of their community. The Frenchwoman whom I was talking with just laughed. `What do they have to move?' she asked. `Nature has taught them the only thing they have is from the top of their head to the bottom of their feet. Themselves, not things. They can't collect things because every year the monsoon comes.'"
******
Fr. Tony Kadavil:

"America's Mansions." There was a television show, America's Mansions, featuring homes of the extremely rich in the U. S. It featured the Vanderbilt estate in Hyde Park, New York constructed by a wealthy industrialist of the nineteenth century. It is a fifty-four room home, with a breathtaking view of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains in the distance. Another feature was the home of Bill Gates the richest man in the world. Its building cost was over $53 million.  It is a fifty-four room house: a 66,000 square foot complex with seven bedrooms, 24 bathrooms, six fireplaces and an 11,500 square-foot inner sanctum for privacy. The financier Nelson Peltz’s mansion on his waterfront estate in Florida is worth $75 million. The original price of the Bel-Air Mansion owned by Iris Cantor, the widow of Gerald Cantor, was $60 million. (http://www.forbes.com).  We find it hard to imagine living in such luxury. But neither can we imagine the poverty found around the world.   Here is the report of the United Nations Human Development Commission. "The richest fifth [20 percent] of the world's people consumes 86 percent of all goods and services, while the poorest fifth [20 percent] consumes just 1.3 percent.” The three richest people in the world have assets that exceed the combined gross domestic product of the 48 least developed countries. "Americans spend $8 billion a year on cosmetics--$2 billion more than the estimated annual total needed to provide basic education for everyone in the world.” Each day over 700 million people do not get enough to eat. Each year twelve million children below the age of five starve to death in a world that produces enough food for everyone to eat over 4 pounds of food a day. 250,000 go blind each year because of vitamin deficiency in their diet. In Latin America, forty million abandoned children live on the streets. Even in the United States about three million people are homeless at least a part of each year. In today’s Gospel, Jesus suggests a remedy: share your blessings generously with others instead of using them selfishly and thus making yourselves eligible for eternal punishment.
---------
Sharing is the criterion of Last Judgment: Matthew (25: 31ff), tells us that all six questions to be asked of each one of us by Jesus when He comes in glory as our judge are based on how we have shared our blessings from Him  (food, drink, home, mercy and compassion), with others. Here is the message given by Pope John Paul II in Yankee Stadium, New York during his first visit to the U.S., October 2, 1979. "The parable of the rich man and Lazarus must always be present in our memory; it must form our conscience. Christ demands openness to our brothers and sisters in need – openness from the rich, the affluent, the economically advanced; openness to the poor, the underdeveloped and the disadvantaged. Christ demands an openness that is more than benign attention, more than token actions or halfhearted efforts that leave the poor as destitute as before or even more so. ...We cannot stand idly by, enjoying our own riches and freedom, if, in any place, the Lazarus of the 20th century stands at our doors.”
 
 Half to doctors and half to lawyers:

Cecil John Rhodes was an enormously wealthy man. He was an English-born businessman, mining magnate, and politician in South Africa. He was the founder of the diamond company De Beers, which today markets 40% of the world's rough diamonds and at one time marketed 90%. An ardent believer in colonialism and imperialism, he was the founder of the state of Rhodesia to perpetuate his name.  One day a newspaperman asked him, "You must be very happy." Rhodes replied, "Happy! No! I spent my life amassing a fortune only to find that I have spent half of it on doctors to keep me out of the grave, and the other half on lawyers to keep me out of jail!" He reminds us of the rich man in Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel. 

 "The Fortunate Fifth" versus the "Forgotten Four-Fifths".
America is increasingly becoming a caste society. We call it a two-coupon society - with severe social separation of the two coupon clippers. The top 10 or 20 percent of the population (50 million), clip their stock coupons and treasury certificates. Their kids go to private schools, while the public schools are deteriorating. Their mail goes Federal Express while the postal service is deteriorating. Their bottled water is delivered to the door while the water system becomes more and more contaminated. The rest of Americans, 200 million, are standing at supermarket check-outs, the poorest members clipping food stamps, while the dwindling middle-class members clip food coupons. Doug Henwood calls this "The Fortunate Fifth" versus the "Forgotten Four-Fifths." Neither group is able to see reality as it is – one group has its head in the clouds, arched in the air above the pain and poverty, while the other has its head is in the sand and dirt, enmeshed in the grind and grime of eking out a living in a service economy and unable to lift up its heads for hope or help or anything much else beyond survival. Whitehead groups the poor class into the "traditional poor" (primarily holding part-time service occupations with no benefits), and a frighteningly expanding new group of the poorer than poor known widely as "the underclass" - two million-plus Americans who are permanently homeless and psychologically hopeless, without voice or face in popular culture. New York University's Lawrence M. Mead shows how many of the ghetto poor are "seceding from mainstream institutions - breaking the law, dropping out of school, not learning English, declining to work." This "internal secession" he deems as threatening to the nation as the South's secession in 1861. [See Mead, "The Democrats' Dilemma," Commentary 93 (January 1992), 44.] Like the rich man and Lazarus in today’s Gospel parable, these two groups are separated by a chasm predetermined by their economic status.
*****
More from Fr. Tony

1: The parable that challenged Dr. Albert Schweitzer is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. This story Jesus told made a man with three doctoral degrees (one in medicine, one in theology, one in philosophy), leave civilization with all its culture and amenities and depart for the jungles of darkest Africa to serve as a missionary doctor for 47 years. It was this parable which induced a man, who was recognized as one of the best soloists and concert organists in all Europe, to go to a place where there were no organs to play! It was this powerful parable which so intensely motivated a man that he gave up a teaching position as university professor in Vienna, Austria to go to help people who were so deprived that they were still living in the superstitions of the dark ages, for all practical purposes. At the age of 38, he became a full-fledged medical doctor with specialization in tropical medicine. At the age of 43, he left for Africa where he opened a hospital on the edge of the jungle in what was then called Equatorial Africa. He died there in 1965 at the age of 90. The man, of course, was Dr. Albert Schweitzer who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. The single parable that so radically altered his life, according to him, was our text for this morning, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the beggar. That parable convinced Schweitzer that the rich, Europe, should share its riches with the poor, Africa, and that he should start the process.

2: Half to doctors and half to lawyers: Cecil John Rhodes was an enormously wealthy man. He was an English-born businessman, mining magnate, and politician in South Africa. He was the founder of the diamond company De Beers, which today markets 40% of the world’s rough diamonds and at one time marketed 90%. An ardent believer in colonialism and imperialism, he was the founder of the state of Rhodesia to perpetuate his name. One day a newspaperman remarked to him, “You must be very happy.” Rhodes replied, “Happy! No! I spent my life amassing a fortune, only to find that I have spent half of it on doctors to keep me out of the grave, and the other half on lawyers to keep me out of jail!” He reminds us of the rich man of Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel.

3: “The Fortunate Fifth” versus the “Forgotten Four-Fifths“. America is increasingly becoming a caste society. We call it a two-coupon society – with severe social separation of the two sets of coupon clippers. The top 10 or 20 percent of the population (50 million), clip their stock coupons and treasury certificates. Their kids go to private schools, while the public schools are deteriorating. Their mail goes Federal Express while the postal service is deteriorating. Their bottled water is delivered to the door while the water system becomes more and more contaminated. The rest of Americans, 200 million, are standing at supermarket check-outs, the poorest members clipping food stamps, while the dwindling middle-class members clip food coupons. Doug Henwood calls this division, “The Fortunate Fifth” versus the “Forgotten Four-Fifths.” Neither group is able to see reality as it is – one group has its head in the clouds, arched in the air above the pain and poverty, while the other has its head is in the sand and dirt, enmeshed in the grind and grime of eking out a living in a service economy and unable to lift up its head for hope or help or anything much else beyond survival. Whitehead groups the poor class into the “traditional poor” (primarily holding part-time service occupations with no benefits), and a frighteningly expanding new group of the poorer than poor known widely as “the underclass” – two million-plus Americans who are permanently homeless and psychologically hopeless, without voice or face in popular culture. New York University’s Lawrence M. Mead shows how many of the ghetto poor are “seceding from mainstream institutions – breaking the law, dropping out of school, not learning English, declining to work.” This “internal secession” he deems as threatening to the nation as the South’s secession in 1861. [See Mead, “The Democrats’ Dilemma,” Commentary 93 (January 1992), 44.] Like the rich man and Lazarus in today’s Gospel parable, these two groups are separated by a chasm predetermined by their economic status.

4) “You’ll learn more from that than anything I can tell you.” The story is told of a Franciscan monk in Australia assigned to be the guide and ‘gofer’ to Mother Teresa when she visited New South Wales. Thrilled and excited at the prospect of being so close to this great woman, he dreamed of how much he would learn from her and what they would talk about. But during her visit, he became frustrated. Although he was constantly near her, the friar never had the opportunity to say one word to Mother Teresa. There were always other people for her to meet. Finally, her tour was over, and she was due to fly to New Guinea. In desperation, the Franciscan friar spoke to Mother Teresa: “If I pay my own fare to New Guinea, can I sit next to you on the plane so I can talk to you and learn from you?” Mother Teresa looked at him. You have enough money to pay airfare to New Guinea?” she asked. “Yes,” he replied eagerly. “Then give that money to the poor,” she said. “You’ll learn more from that than anything I can tell you.” Mother Teresa understood that Jesus’ ministry was to the poor and she made it hers as well. (Quoted by Fr. Lakra).

5) “Oh Lord, hit him again!” The parish church was badly in need of repair. So, the pastor called a special meeting inside the Church to raise funds. At the assembly the pastor explained the need of an emergency fund for plastering the roof and supporting pillars and the other areas which needed repair. He invited pledge of contributions. After a brief pause Mr. Murphy, the richest man in the parish, volunteered he would give 50 dollars. Just as he sat down, a hunk of plaster fell from the ceiling on the head of Mr. Murphy. He jumped up looking terribly startled and corrected himself: “I meant to say 500 dollars.” The congregation stood silent and stunned. Then a lone voice cried out: “Oh Lord, hit him again!”

6) “Jesus died between two thieves.” An old pastor was dying. He sent a message for his IRS agent and his lawyer (both Church members), to come to his home. When they arrived, they were ushered up to his bedroom. As they entered the room, the dying pastor held out his hands and motioned for them to sit on each side of the bed. The pastor grasped their hands, sighed contentedly, smiled and stared at the ceiling. For a time, no one said anything. Both the IRS agent and lawyer were touched and flattered that the old pastor would ask them to be with him during his final moment. They were however puzzled because the pastor had never given any indication that he particularly liked either one of them. Finally, the lawyer asked, “Father, why did you ask the two of us to come?” The old pastor mustered up some strength, then said weakly, “Jesus died between two thieves, and that’s how I want to go, too.”

7) Drowsy Living: There is a sign series on the West Virginia Turnpike that says, “Driving while drowsy can put you to sleep – permanently.” Drowsy, uncaring living can put us to sleep – permanently. That kind of person, Jesus says, is separating himself from God until it becomes permanent, digging a chasm between himself and Heaven that even the love of God cannot bridge. (Carveth Mitchell, The Sign in the Subway, CSS Publishing Company).

8) Grab as many bottles as you can. The old beer adage which I am sure you all remember and follow went like this: You only go around once, so grab as many bottles as you can. We do go around only once in this world, as you may have noticed, or perhaps not, and we should grab every opportunity to do good that we encounter.

9) “It’s my dad’s.” Harry and his neighbor Joe often borrowed things from each other. One day, Harry asked to borrow Joe’s ladder. Joe said, “Sorry Harry, I’ve lent it to my son.” Remembering a saying that his grandma often used to tell him, Harry said, “Joe, you should never lend anything to your children because you’ll never get it back.” Joe replied, laughing, “Don’t worry, it’s not my ladder. It’s my dad’s.”

14 Additional anecdotes

1) “America’s Mansions.” There was a television show, America’s Mansions, featuring homes of the extremely rich in the U. S. It featured the Vanderbilt estate in Hyde Park, New York constructed by a wealthy industrialist of the nineteenth century. It is a fifty-four-room home, with a breath-taking view of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains in the distance. Another feature was the home of Bill Gates the richest man in the world. Its building cost was over $53 million. It is a fifty-four-room house: a 66,000 square foot complex with seven bedrooms, 24 bathrooms, six fireplaces and an 11,500 square-foot inner sanctum for privacy. The financier Nelson Peltz’s mansion on his waterfront estate in Florida is worth $75 million. The original price of the Bel-Air Mansion owned by Iris Cantor, the widow of Gerald Cantor, was $60 million. (http://www.forbes.com). We find it hard to imagine living in such luxury. But neither can we imagine the poverty found around the world.   Here is the report of the United Nations Human Development Commission. “The richest fifth [20 percent] of the world’s people consumes 86 percent of all goods and services, while the poorest fifth [20 percent] consumes just 1.3 percent.” The three richest people in the world have assets that exceed the combined gross domestic product of the 48 least developed countries. “Americans spend $8 billion a year on cosmetics–$2 billion more than the estimated annual total needed to provide basic education for everyone in the world.” Each day over 700 million people do not get enough to eat. Each year twelve million children below the age of five starve to death in a world that produces enough food for everyone to eat over 4 pounds of food a day. 250,000 go blind each year because of vitamin deficiency in their diet. In Latin America, forty million abandoned children live on the streets. Even in the United States about three million people are homeless at least a part of each year. In today’s Gospel, Jesus suggests a remedy: share your blessings generously with others instead of using them selfishly — thus making yourselves eligible for eternal punishment.

2) Here is the image of God covered with rags! There is a Jewish story about Rabbi Joshua, the son of Levi, and his trip to Rome in the third century. He was astounded to see the magnificence of the buildings, especially the care lavished upon statues which were covered with exquisite cloths to protect them from the summer heat. As he was admiring the beauty of Roman art, a beggar plucked at his sleeve and asked for a crust of bread. The sage looked at the statues and turning to the beggar in rags said: “Here are statues of stones covered with expensive clothes, and here is a man created in the image and likeness of God covered with rags. A civilization that pays more attention to statues than to human beings shall surely perish.” Telling the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in today’s Gospel, Jesus asks us the same question: What are our statues, our priorities? The poor and powerless, the illiterate, the homeless, the ill?

3) “A diet plan I can recommend!”: Guideposts magazine, several years ago, published an account of how a young woman named Mary Bowers MacKorell found an effective weight loss plan. Mary’s doctor told her she needed to lose several pounds. She went through many diet plans, counted her calories and used dietetic foods, but found she just didn’t have the necessary willpower. One day she received a pamphlet about needy people in her mail. Pictured on the pamphlet was a dark-skinned, scrawny, near skeletal boy. MacKorell says that she experienced a kind of spiritual shock treatment at the sight of the starving child. She began to think more seriously about how she could take off unnecessary pounds and put them where they were needed on this starving child. “At last I had a spiritual motivation for reducing,” she said. “Under God’s guidance I formed a practical plan and carried it through. For a period of ten days I ate only two meals a day, skipping lunch. Each day at the lunch hour I sipped a sugar free drink and looked at the picture of the starving boy. I prayed to God to bless him and let my extra weight be transferred to him or someone like him. For each lunch I omitted I placed in a box for missions one dollar saved. Now there is a diet plan I can recommend.” The parable of the rich man and Lazarus in today’s Gospel gives all of us a similar diet plan.

4) “I have so much, and you have so little.” There is a story about when David Rockefeller of Chase Manhattan Bank was traveling through South America. A group of bank officials of the government of Uruguay invited him for lunch, hoping for a sizable loan. The affair was held at a club that was famous locally for its magnificent cold appetizer buffet. Rockefeller passed through the line first and, thinking this to be the entire meal, served himself generously. Once seated, he noticed that others had taken skimpier portions. “I have so much,” he said to the president of Banco Central, “and you have so little….” “I am glad you mentioned that Mr. Rockefeller” interrupted his host, “because that is exactly what we want to talk to you about!”* You and I are not Rockefellers, but we, too, have so many blessings and talents from God. Others have so little. The 5 billionth baby was born on planet earth recently. Chances are very, very high that baby will live all his or her life poorly clothed, poorly housed, poorly fed. That is because most of the babies born today are in the so-called third world where poverty is the rule and not the exception. Hence, today’s Gospel parable challenges us to share our blessings with the less fortunate ones in our society.

5) Hell full of Lutherans: There is a town in Norway named Hell. A couple of Lutherans from the U.S. visited Norway some time back and then sent a postcard to their pastor back home. He read it at a meeting of the parish council. “Dear Father,” it said, “We passed through Hell today, and we’re concerned. Almost everyone here seems to be Lutheran.” [Leonard R.N. Ashley, The Amazing World of Superstition . . . (New York: Bell Publishing Co., 1988).] In today’s Gospel Jesus reminds us that Hell is a realty, and it is meant for selfish people.

6) “He doesn’t believe in Hell.” You may have heard about a young woman about to get married who said to her mother, “I can’t marry him, mother. He’ is an atheist and he doesn’t believe there is a Hell.” Her mother responded, “That’s all right, dear! Marry him, and between the two of us I am sure we can convince him.”

7) Making a Difference: Some of you are old enough to remember Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She arrived at the seat of power as a president’s wife, but her power was much more pronounced than that of any other First Lady. Mrs. Roosevelt was a one-woman war on poverty during the Depression. She visited coal mines, hospitals, and squatters’ camps all over the nation. She traveled around the world, speaking with kings, presidents, and the destitute with equal enthusiasm and compassion. During her husband’s presidency, she acted as unofficial ambassador to the world and devil’s advocate to his conscience and the conscience of a nation. She achieved all this in spite of the fact that she was painfully shy. After her husband’s death, with no official capacity, Mrs. Roosevelt continued to be a spokesperson for dozens of causes. When President Truman appointed her to the newly formed League of Nations, he was confident that he had given Mrs. Roosevelt a perfect platform from which to launch a worldwide fight for fairness and equality. Everyone she came into contact with felt the power of her convictions. Her work on the “Bill of Human Rights” for the newly formed United Nations came to fruition after four years of arduous effort. To date, this document has been used as the basis for the constitutions of sixty nations! Eleanor Roosevelt was on a mission, and she made a major difference in our world. [Sheila Murray Bethel, Making a Difference, (New York: Berkley Books, 1990).] If you and I are not as powerful as we ought to be, maybe it is because we have no mission burning in our soul. God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power. God has also given us a spirit of love.

8) “Grandfather’s Corner,” is the story of an old man who lived with his son and his son’s wife and children. The man was almost deaf and blind and had difficulty eating without spilling his food. Occasionally, he would drop a bowl and break it. His son and daughter-in-law thought it was disgusting and made the old man eat in a corner behind the stove. They gave him a wooden bowl which could not be broken. One day the old man’s little grandson was working with some pieces of wood. When his father asked what he was doing, he replied, “I’m making a trough for you and mother to eat out of when I’m grown up.” From that moment on, the grandfather rejoined the family at the table. No one ever said another word about it. [Leo Buscaglia, Bus 9 to Paradise (New York: Wm. Morrow & Co., 1986), pg. 249.] What goes around comes around. The way we treat other people is the way we will be treated. That is especially true within the family. The boy saw how his father treated his grandfather and assumed that it was an acceptable way to treat someone who was old. In today’s parable Jesus warns us that we will reap in the next world what we sow in this world.

9) Caring and sharing with the poor: Dr. Samuel Johnson was a great lexicographer, writer, critic and conversationalist. He was the first one to make an attempt to write an English Dictionary. William Barclay gives this account of his kindness and generosity. “Surely one of the loveliest pictures in literary history is the picture of Johnson, in his own days of poverty, coming home in the small hours of the morning, and as he walked along the Strand, slipping pennies into the hands of waifs and strays who were sleeping in the doorways because they had nowhere else to go. When someone asked him how he could bear to have his house filled with ‘necessitous and undeserving people,’ Johnson answered, “If I did not assist them no one else would, and they must not be lost for want.” Dr. Johnson cared and was concerned about the beggars and the strays that flocked to him. (John Rose in John’s Sunday Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

10) Dear Abby: The Dear Abby column once received a letter from a 15-year-old girl which read as follows: Dear Abby, “Happiness is not having your parents scold you if you come home late, having your own bedroom, and getting the telephone call you’ve been hoping for. Happiness is belonging to a popular group, being dressed as well as anybody, and having a lot of spending money. Happiness is something I don’t have! 15 and Unhappy.”  Shortly after the letter was published, Dear Abby received a reply from 13-year-old girl who wrote: Dear Abby: “Happiness is being able to walk and talk, to see and hear. Unhappiness is reading a letter from a 15-year-old girl who can do all four things and still says she isn’t happy. I can talk, I can see, I can hear. But I can’t walk! 13 and Happy.” These letters reflect two different points of view on happiness. Today’s Gospel parable does the same. (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

11) Vanity of Wealth: The famous Greek law-giver Solon once went on a vacation to the town of Lydia, now in Turkey. It boasted the richest king in the world, named Croesus. Solon, the great philosopher, – quite detached from all possessions of this world – decided to visit the man who seemed to find all his happiness in wealth. As soon as he got to the place, Croesus decided to show his vaults. “What do you think of that?” he demanded triumphantly. But Solon kept silent and so the king went on, “Who do you think is the happiest man in the world? The philosopher thought for a moment, and then named two obscure Greeks whose names Croesus had never heard before. The king was angered because he had been cheated out of a compliment, so he asked sharply for an explanation. Solon answered, “No man can be considered really happy whose heart is wedded to material things. They pass and their owner becomes a widow. To widows belongs grief. Nor can the man himself who passes away and can take none of his gold with him. Again, it is only grief.” (Frank Michalic in 1000 Stories You Can Use; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

12) The parable which transformed St. Vincent de Paul and Frederick Ozanam: September 27th is the feast of Saint Vincent de Paul. In 16th century France, Saint Vincent de Paul observed the disparity between the rich and the poor. As a priest, he had the opportunity to experience the aristocratic life as well as the life of the destitute poor in Paris. He organized groups of women called Charities who gave their time and belongings to the poor. Some of these women chose the consecrated life and became the first female congregation to live a consecrated life “in the world,” and not in the cloister. Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Louise de Marillac founded this congregation, named the “Daughters of Charity.”  Our first U.S.-born saint, Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton, founded the U.S. branch of the Daughters of Charity. Two centuries after Saint Vincent de Paul, a 20-year old college student, Frederick Ozanam, and five other students, witnessed the dire poverty of the lower social classes in Paris. They decided to dedicate themselves to the poor, after the example of Saint Vincent de Paul. In 1833, they established the “Conference of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul,” soon to be called “The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.”  They were determined to bring not only bread but friendship to the poor. They would not ignore the Lazaruses at their door in 19th century Paris. Frederic Ozanam was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1997.

13) `What do they have to move?‘ Dr. Leo Buscalgia tells of an experience he had in Cambodia years ago. He noticed that during monsoon season the people’s way of life changed. The great rains washed away their houses, so the people lived on great communal rafts, several families together. Dr. Buscalgia writes: “I went down there on a bicycle and there they were. I thought I’d help these people move and become part of their community. The Frenchwoman whom I was talking with just laughed. `What do they have to move?’ she asked. `Nature has taught them the only thing they have is from the top of their head to the bottom of their feet. Themselves, not things. They can’t collect things because every year the monsoon comes.'”

14) Near death experiences: On January 18, 1989, around 11:45 a.m., thirty-nine-year-old Larry Donald Piper’s Ford Escort collided head-on with a semi-truck. EMTs arrived shortly thereafter and pronounced him dead at the scene. Unconscious in the wrecked vehicle, Piper claims to have spent ninety minutes at the entrance to heaven, seeing deceased loved ones, hearing celestial music, and walking toward heaven’s gate. Before entering, however, God sent him back. Piper’s book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, which recounts his near-death experience, remained on the New York Times best-seller list for more than five years and has sold over six million copies. Even more recently, in the 2010 New York Times best-selling book, Heaven is for Real, Todd Burpo relates the near-death experience of his then-three-year-old son, Colton. The book recounts Colton’s journey to Heaven, where he personally met Jesus riding a rainbow-colored horse and sat in Jesus’ lap when angels sang songs to him. Burpo’s book has since sold over 10 million copies and was adapted into a feature film, earning over $100 million at the box office. Other near-death-experiences are recorded in books like 23 Minutes in Hell by Bill Weise (2006), The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven written by Kevin Malarkey (2010), and Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander (2012). While I think the subjective experiences of near-deathers do little to prove their claims, the sales record of books such as these certainly proves one thing—our culture is curious, even obsessed, about the afterlife. We want to know what happens after death. What will we see? What will we feel? Does Jesus really have brown hair, blue eyes, and a rainbow-colored horse!? Rather than relying on the notoriously unreliable experiences of others, Christians ought to rely on Scripture. The Bible tells us, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him, but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10). (Rev Scott Bayles) L/19