Father Donald Senior, CP

Jesus reminds us that we are called to take care of the poor

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

Sept. 25: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Am 6:1a, 4-7; 1 Tm 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31

The other day I heard a news report that Morgan Stanley, one of the nation’s largest banks, was giving its lowest paid employees (bank tellers) an 18 percent raise. The CEO of the company issued a press release about this, wanting everyone to know about it.

The reporter who broke this story was asked why the bank was doing this now and why they wanted publicity. The reply was that corporations like this “may be feeling a tremor underneath their feet” — the public’s growing frustration in our country about the gap between the rich and the poor.

The readings for this Sunday remind us that concern about the gap between rich and poor is a strong and persistent biblical theme. As was the case last Sunday, the first reading is drawn from the prophet Amos, a blunt and fierce critic of those who bask in their wealth while exploiting or ignoring the poor.

Here in this segment, Amos mocks those who are complacent in their wealth and unaware of the tragedy that surrounds them. Israel is on the brink of being invaded and threatened with exile.

It would not be hard to translate Amos’ indictment into the circumstances of our own day. These indifferent people of luxury lounge on “beds of ivory” and “stretch comfortably on their couches.” They gorge on fresh lamb and veal, listening to new compositions on the harp and drink fine wine from bowls. They anoint their skin with precious oils and unguents.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Meanwhile, Amos warns, the country is threatened with exile and their “wanton revelry will be done away with.”

The Gospel selection is from the 16th chapter of Luke, where the evangelist gathers some strong words of Jesus about those who have abundance and ignore the needs of others. Jesus’ words may not be as sarcastic as those of Amos but the message is similar.

Last week we heard about the steward who was facing dismissal by his master because of his cheating, but is clever enough to feather his nest by reducing the amount of debts owed to his master by various clients, with the hope of winning their favor when he is out on the street. Jesus praises the man for being clever and using his resources to prepare for the future — and suggests that his disciples ought to think about their future lives as well.

This week we have another parable, one of the most famous in the New Testament, namely the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Jesus directs this pointed story to the Pharisees, whom Luke characterizes as “lovers of money.”

The rich man who dresses well and eats sumptuously is completely oblivious to the plight of Lazarus who lies starving outside his door, covered with wounds and with only the dogs to lick his sores. The contrast between the two is stark. So, too, is their future.

When Lazarus dies he is carried by angels to heaven and lives happily in the “bosom of Abraham.” The rich man dies, too, but ends up in the fiery netherworld. Despite the rich man’s attempt to have Lazarus bring him a cool drink (the rich man assumes he can still give orders!), he is told there is a “great chasm” between the destiny of the poor whom the God of the Bible loves and this rich man (whom God also loves) but who has squandered his chance to do the right thing.

Here again is a message that Pope Francis (and his predecessors) has ceaselessly proclaimed. Those who enjoy abundance cannot afford to be indifferent to the plight of those who have nothing. This is a core conviction of Catholic social teaching.

As Jesus reminds us in the Gospel today, using the resources we have and taking advantage of the opportunities that are open to us, we are to care for the needs of others, especially the most vulnerable. Such generosity is a sign of authentic Christian discipleship and will be blessed by God.


  • scripture
  • pope francis