Have our ‘riches’ blinded us to the kingdom of God?
By Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time/Sept. 25
Amos 6:1a,4-7; Psalm 146:7,8-9,9-10; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31
William Bausch tells a story of a fox who said that he would provide worms for any bird that would share his feathers. One bird thought that this was a good idea, so it pulled out a feather from one of its wings and gave it to the fox and then received a worm in return. This was wonderful! The bird decided that this was a good way to get worms easily. But, after a while, the bird had plucked out so many feathers that it could not fly away, and so the fox jumped on it and ate it.
It’s an awful thing to sell oneself like that, feather by feather, little by little. As in the story, we find ourselves lulled into complacency and sell out by the small choices that benefit us. Today’s readings are a stark reminder that selling oneself is indeed destructive to one’s soul.
The first reading from the prophet Amos speaks of a temptation that haunts so many of us — enjoying the possessions and positions we have acquired while neglecting those who wait for us to recognize their need. “Lying upon beds of ivory . . . drinking wine from bowls and anointing themselves with the best oils” is the way Amos described the Israelites. (Amos 6:4-5)
SIN OF OMISSION
The Gospel passage from Luke continues the theme. The passage appears only in Luke and highlights his great concern for the needy.
The rich man described in the Gospel is not only well off, he is excessively wealthy because few had clothing made of purple dye as Luke puts it. By contrast, the description of Lazarus, filthy and with sores that dogs lick, paints the picture of the difference between the two.
The rich man grew accustomed to his lifestyle, neglecting the man outside his door while he ate sumptuously. He knew him by name; he simply did not desire to know any more about him. So, choice by choice, he continued his lavish lifestyle and closed his heart to the need of Lazarus.
Until . . . he found himself on the other side of comfort. He was suffering the flames of the netherworld. The rich person arrogantly commanded that Lazarus come down and refresh him. He seemed accustomed to treating Lazarus with such disdain.
Abraham, when the rich man begged him to send Lazarus, makes it clear that the rich man’s choices indeed had produced a chasm between himself and Lazarus — a chasm so large that it could not be crossed. The rich man’s way of life, centered as it was on his own needs and without any concern for the situation of Lazarus, was himself the cause of a sin of omission that stood in the way of his salvation.
The real danger of wealth and power, Jesus preaches, is that they can blind us to the kingdom of God in this life and in the next. The blindness prohibits us from seeing beyond ourselves. The real irony of the story is that the rich man really needed Lazarus in order to save himself. Noticing and aiding Lazarus was necessary for his salvation.
We have to watch which fox invites himself into our lives. More than that, we have to resist the temptation that we can exchange ourselves for the pleasures that satisfy only our own needs without looking at those at our door who need our assistance.
Watch the feathers you pull out! And watch the worms you are given! They can take you down the path you don’t want to go.
Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB, is a member of the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island. She serves as pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights.