Homily on the readings for Sept. 26, XXVI Sunday in Ordinary Time, year C
Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God above all things, and our neighbor as ourself; we will keep all the other commandments if we keep these two. He also explains to us that the way we know we’re observing the first of the two, is to see if we are keeping the second; our love for God is primarily enacted and manifested in our solicitude for our neighbor.
The importance of this is driven home in the first reading and the Gospel today. In the parable that Christ recounts, the poor man Lazarus suffers hunger and sickness and has no one to help him. The rich man passes him by every day without offering him any help whatsoever. He is the image of the “complacent in Zion” in the prophecy of Amos in today’s first reading. They ensure that they themselves have the best of life’s pleasures, without a thought for the welfare of their neighbors or their own nation; the prophet warns that their prosperity will come to an end and they shall lose everything.
The parable follows the prophecy. When they both die, Lazarus – who was innocent in his poverty – is taken to heaven, but the rich man goes to hell. He seems surprised to find himself being tormented, and wants God to warn his brothers, but Abraham – speaking for God – tells him that the message is obvious enough already; if they are not following the commandments yet, even if a man were to rise from the dead, it would not convince them to start. This is sadly played out in the opponents of Jesus, who do not convert even when He whom they had crucified rose from the dead.
St. Paul in the second reading also assumes that the essence of the message is clear enough. He tells Timothy to “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness” by “keep[ing] the commandment without stain or reproach”, and thus “lay hold of eternal life” to which we are called. He doesn’t have to specify which commandment; Jesus said that “his commandment” was to love one another as He loved us.
If we live this commandment, The Commandment, we will truly follow Jesus’ exhortation to be “perfect like the Heavenly Father is perfect”. The Psalm reminds us how the Lord himself helps the less fortunate – and not just those who suffer material poverty; also those who suffer injustice, solitude and emotional need. We are more perfectly members of the Mystical Body of Christ when we act as his hands and feet to love others and help them according to their needs and our own possibilities.
We can become somewhat inoculated to this message, and check it off on our to-do list automatically because of the good we already do for the materially poor: “Soup kitchen: check. Second collection: check.” Those are really good and important, but let’s also take a moment today to look around us for those with other kinds of less obvious needs that perhaps we have overlooked. Let’s make sure we are showing that we appreciate every life and every person, and value them for who they are. Maybe we can do something more for the pro-life cause, or offer friendship to someone who is lonely, reconciliation to someone from whom we are alienated, a smile and a sympathetic word to someone who is downcast.
Thus may there be no division among us as there was between Lazarus and the rich man; in this life and the next, may we all be together in mutual respect, love and support, united in loving God above all things and loving our neighbor as Jesus loved us.