26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – September 29, 2019
St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146:7-10; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31
One of the things that has always been a struggle for me in my spiritual life is money. I’m not rich, I will show you my bank account; I’m not rolling in cash. The issue has always been that I’m very stingy. I may tithe 10% to the parish, but I hate writing the check, so I just have the bookkeeper subtract it from my paycheck. I never see it; it goes right back to the parish. But there are always people that need help! And even though I’m not rich, my income is pretty disposable. There are opportunities almost every day for me to help the poor. And again, it’s not that I don’t have the money to help them—it just hurts. It takes every ounce of strength to smile and to be gentle and to help them. My problem isn’t the money…it’s deeper. It’s my hardness of heart, and the fact that the poor don’t come first.
The problem in our Gospel today is not money. But the cause and the root of the issue is. What’s going on? There is a rich man who dresses in fine clothes and eats splendidly every day. And yet, even though he is quite rich and quite capable of helping others, he neglects the poor man Lazarus who sits on his doorstep. When they die, Lazarus is taken to the bosom of Abraham while the rich man goes to the place of punishment. But what’s really going on? By the end of the story we discover that the rich man’s biggest problem was his hardness of heart. The problem is hardness of heart. The cause was his love of money. And the result is that the poor are forgotten.
Money is one of the easiest and simplest ways to get in big spiritual trouble. Nothing will put you in a bad spiritual position faster than money. In this first letter to Timothy, this is pointed out very bluntly. St. Paul writes, “If we have food and clothing, we shall be content with that. Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Tim 6:8-10). (You could take that and pray with it for a whole week.) What is St. Paul’s point? St. Paul is pleading with the people: “Just don’t do it, it will only end badly! Even wanting to be rich will lead only to the trap of foolish and harmful desires. This love of money is the root of all evils.”
But why? Why is money such an issue? Just look at the rich man. The rich man could easily have helped this poor man get some food and clothing and medical attention. The rich man is not accused of not solving world hunger or building a hospital for the homeless; he simply didn’t feed the man sitting on his doorstep. Think how self-absorbed you would have to be to not feed someone that is literally sitting on your doorstep! And so the issue, ultimately, is his hardness of heart. What does this hardness of heart look like, what do I mean?
A hardened heart is one that is complacent and covetous: you just sit around all day thinking about what you’re going to buy, or what you want, or scrolling through Instagram looking at different clothes or shoes or cars or makeup; this is what dominates your day—coveting things that you don’t have. A hardened heart is one that constantly and feverishly pursues frivolous pleasures: you are always worried about which restaurant you are going to go to, or where the next dance or party is, or if you have new clothes or a nice car. A hardened heart is one that has a blunted conscience, one that really just doesn’t care what others suffer (“they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph” (Amos 6:6)): you see homeless people on the street (but don’t care), you’re on your way to buy shoes for $150 and drive past a person whose shoes are falling apart (but you don’t care), you worry about a new shirt for the party (even though you have 20) and don’t worry about the person who doesn’t have a shirt without holes. A hardened heart is “caught up in its own interests and concerns,” it is self-centered, and selfish. But the bigger issues is that “there is no longer room for others, [and especially] no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades” (Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 2).
The rich man is a wake-up call. Because “in him we can catch a dramatic glimpse of the corruption of sin, which progresses in three successive stages: 1) love of money, 2) vanity, and 3) pride.” The love of money leads to vanity which leads to pride.
1) Money is a tool. Your car is a tool. Your phone is a tool. And yet, “Money can come to dominate us, even to the point of becoming a tyrannical idol.” Money becomes the most important thing. We work on Sundays for more money. We get a job during high school so we can buy all this stuff we want. “Instead of being a tool at our service for doing good…money can chain us…to a selfish logic that leaves no room for love.” Life becomes about money.
2) And this story of the rich man shows us that that his love of money makes him vain. His life becomes all about his appearance, about showing others what he can do. How many times do we buy a car not as a tool, but as a symbol of our status? We don’t buy a Ford the gets us from point A to point B, we buy a fancy car, a nice car, that shows people we can afford it, that we have a high status. How many times are our clothes and shoes only about showing our status, having the name brands. I’ve seen little kids with designer clothes, not because they want them, but because their parents are embarrassed to have their kid wearing non-name brand clothing. The appearance of being poor or perceived as poor is too much. And I know this is going to be touchy, but—how many times is the quinceañera not about the quinceañera or about giving thanks to God for the gift of life, but only about appearances, about showing people that we can rent the best venue, that we can have the best bands, that we can buy a dress for over a thousand dollars, that we have the money to have a party. It’s all about appearances and showing others what we can do. It is vanity. But all the while, the appearances masks an interior emptiness. Our lives are a prisoner to outward appearances, to the most superficial and fleeting aspects of existence.
3) Love of money leads to vanity, and vanity leads to pride. The rich man dresses like a king and acts like a god, forgetting that he is merely mortal. When we begin to love money, when vanity sets in, nothing exists beyond our own ego—the only thing that matters is me, myself, and I. We are not even concerned about the people around us, they do not come into our line of sight. We become so self-absorbed that we become blind to everyone else. Just like the rich man, the problem is not that we wouldn’t help the poor. The problem is that we don’t even see the poor man who is starving, hurting, lying at our door (c.f., Francis, Lent 2017).
This Gospel is tough because it makes us uncomfortable. We try to explain it away, or think that, “Well, I don’t have a lot of money, so this is not about me.” This story was told by Jesus to make his audience uncomfortable. It should discomfort us. It should make us feel guilty. Because more likely than not, we have forgotten the poor.
One of my favorite parts of this story is the fact that the rich man’s name is not mentioned, but we are told the name of the poor man—Lazarus. Usually it is the rich whose names we know, and the poor who are forgotten. How many of us know the names of the Kardashians, but don’t know the name of our poor neighbor who lives two houses down from us? (I’m preaching to myself here!) But this is precisely Jesus’ point! In the Kingdom of God, it all comes down to our treatment of the poor, of the least among us.
I would like to give you a nice message that makes you feel better. But that’s not what Jesus gives us today. He gives us a story that is meant to make us uncomfortable. Just like the rich man, when we come before the Lord after our death, we are not going to be able to plead ignorance! We will not be able to say, “Jesus, I didn’t know that I was supposed to do that.” Because as we know from Scripture, his response will be, “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45).