Paul’s words in today’s reading are very compelling, “Compete well for the faith.” Paul is usually direct, using prescriptive and declarative language, sometimes sounding provocative. Paul leads us to the “what” of our Christian faith and guides us to find the “why.” Why should we “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness?” It is because we have to be determined and aggressive on our faith journey, no passivity. Paul wants us to understand that spiritual and pastoral life is tough. To be authentically Christian is to shun complacency. And in certain cases, it is like being on a battlefield, in a tournament or even a race, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Cor. 9:24). Paul asks us to fight (agonizomai) the good fight of faith in a manner that depicts what we believe and profess.
The first reading from Amos and the gospel present commonalities that point to Paul’s demand of Christians. The first reading gives a generic view, requiring the rich Israelites to shun lousy attitudes. It challenges those who become comfortable and feel so secure that they begin to live carelessly. Those who lie in beds and couches, not caring about others or their nation. Those who dine in costliest meals and feel unconcerned. The prophet threatens them with warnings of exile should they not change from their frivolous, selfish, indulgent ways.
In the gospel, Christ uses a specific example. The stereotypical rich man is comfortable, has everything he needs, and feeds sumptuously. One would be quick to ask, what is the rich man’s crime? Or even, whether he is the reason for Lazarus’ poverty? That only offers a face-value answer because the Bible does not offer details of such background here. However, it is interesting to know that the word “Lazarus” is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Eliezar, which means “my God helps.” Lazarus is an opportunity offered to the rich man to see as God would want him to see. The rich man misses that completely. The lesson in this parable is further presented in the manner of their deaths and the judgment that followed. Both the rich and poor die and face judgment. The rich leave their earthly wealth behind. A person’s post-death is irreversible because it is an everlasting destiny. One is either carried to the bosom of Abraham or buried and perishes alongside his wealth. There is a consequence for our action or inaction here on earth -an everlasting happiness in heaven or everlasting torment in hell. And the chasm between heaven and hell is that irreversibility. We make the choice while we live.
Scripture recounts the parable this way, “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table” (Lk. 16:19). Being rich, dressing fine, or dining sumptuously is not the issue. But to overlook Lazarus is connected with the rich man being consumed or being sunk in his wealth. The rich man’s problem lies in his self-indulgence.
Temperance is a crucial virtue in Christian life, and sometimes can be overlooked. Temperance is the virtue that shapes or forms a person’s character so that the person is able to use pleasurable things in the right amounts at the right time, in the right way, and for the right reasons. The intemperate sins against the virtue of temperance. The intemperate person indulges in things of the flesh, in material possession, in food, in drinks, to the point of not recognizing the needs of others. The rich man fails to use the pleasures around him in the right way. He does not value the dignity of the human person in Lazarus. For him, Lazarus is that poor, despicable man only good for the gates. Lazarus is not even as good as the dogs who lick his sores. To the rich, know that failure to help the poor, or worse, to use wealth as a tool to suppress them will attract God’s judgment on the last day.
Perhaps, we’ve read the story of Saint Francis of Assisi, and can apply it to this parable. Born in an affluent family, Francis originally was a self-indulgent person. Francis avoided lepers. The city of Assisi is said to be built on the top of the mountain. The richer you are, the higher up you lived whereas the lepers and outcasts lived below or outside the city. One day, however, Francis met a man afflicted with leprosy while riding his horse near Assisi. Francis was about to flee in disgust but something held him. Then he got off his horse and kissed the leper. The leper put out his hand, hoping to receive something. Out of compassion, Francis gave money to the leper. But when Francis mounted his horse again and looked all around, he could not see the leper anywhere. It dawned on him that it was Jesus whom he had just kissed. Immediately Francis embraced evangelical poverty. The rich man in today’s gospel could not see Lazarus, could not even look into his eyes. Rather, he saw a smelly, rotten, ragged, disgusting man.
Reading this gospel, it is easy to say to yourself, “I am not that rich and I am not sunk in my wealth.” Possibly you do not have a poor man sitting at the front of your gate or looking in every day. It is possible that you never owned a dog in your life. But there could be an aspect of the rich man in you. My question for you is this, “What do you see and how do you see that?”
Let’s reflect today, on what it means to compete well for our faith in relation to doing the practical things of life and in particular, regarding our relationships with others. Are you able to see others with God’s eyes? Do you see poverty or people who are poor? Do you see the poor as unique individuals struggling to live, needing help, and radiating God’s love in their eyes? Do you see color differences or the rich diversity in each human life despite race or ethnic affiliation? Do you see unique stories for faith, hope, family for the future? Do you see behaviors, addictions, and weaknesses in those with mental health issues or do you see an invitation to get to know the person, be of help to them and support them in their journey towards recovery? Do you see deformity or do you see the presence of Jesus in the suffering lying before you? Do you see yourself being reminded to use every moment as an opportunity to bring Jesus to the needy or are you blinded by what you have and where you are at the moment?
Yes, there is always God’s invitation to help. Embrace the virtue of temperance in dealing with others. Always ask yourself whether through your actions, you are competing well for the faith. We all have a responsibility while we live, to “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.” Remember, God has placed that “Lazarus” on your way for a purpose. Don’t miss that chance.
Readings: 1st- Amos 6:1, 4-7; 2nd- 1 Tim. 6:11-16; Gospel- Lk. 16:19-31