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Care for the Poor

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Homeless Jesus, Sculpture by Timothy Schmalz

I was fortunate to study scripture with a Jewish rabbi last year. He taught us that the Jewish people learn from the Bible that God has given them a very important task--to be a holy people. They learn about mitzvot -- sacred obligations -- tasks to perform to help repair the world and bring about peace. In this way they develop a relationship with God. These sacred tasks are performed within the community. For the Jewish people, therefore, community is very important. Some of these mitzvot include clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, caring for the poor. There is also an important obligation to show hospitality. These are ancient commands, holy obligations, dating from the time of Moses, more than 500 years before Jesus was born.

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.

In the parable that Jesus tells today, we do not know the name of the rich man. I wonder why not? We know the names of our family, our friends, our teachers, and people in our community. Who are the people whose names we do not know? They are strangers. Or people who have removed themselves from the community. The rich man has removed himself from the community.

This Jewish man, has forgotten the importance of community.

And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

Jesus gives a name to the poor man, so we know he is part of the community. His name, Lazarus, means, "God is my help." This shows us that he is a man of faith. Jesus says that he "longed to satisfy his hunger" -- was he being fed? He lay at the rich man's gate and he was obviously poor and sick. Was the rich man performing his holy obligation to care for the poor? No, he was not. Did he perform the mitzvah of hospitality and welcome Lazarus into his home? No, he did not.

This Jewish man ignores his holy obligations to repair the world.

The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.

When Lazarus dies, he is embraced and comforted by Abraham. Abraham was the first person to learn that there was One God. He is considered the father of all the Jewish people. Lazarus is a member of the family.

The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.

When the rich man dies, he realizes (finally) how isolated he has made himself, separated from Abraham. He is not considered a member of the family. When the rich man figures out that he cannot change his situation, he asks Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers about what will happen to them if they do not care for the poor. But Abraham replies,

‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’

The rich man could not say that he didn't know better, could he? All Jewish people know Moses and the prophets. They all speak of caring for the poor. The rich man made the choice to remove himself from community and to isolate himself from the sacred tasks to heal the world.

Why is Jesus telling us this parable? To scare us? Or to remind us of what we already know. We have Moses and the prophets, too, and we have Jesus, the One who is Risen from the dead. At our Baptism we were given the mission to share in the building of the Kingdom of God. Jesus is clear; caring for the poor is perhaps the most important thing we can do.

We have to ask ourselves, who are the poor in our community? Who has a need that we can help? It is our mission, it is our calling, it is our holy obligation. Can we act, like the rich man, like we didn't know that?

Perhaps the next time we care for the poor, we can give thanks to God for letting us share in the mission to build the Kingdom.

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