|Sidewalk art by Edgar Müller|
Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time(Scriptures for today's liturgy)
Audio for today's homily
When our teenage parishioners and their adult chaperons
return from serving the poor at soup kitchens in Boston and Lawrence,
the two comments they most often make are these:
“I feel like the poor people we met gave more to us, did more for us,
than we did for them…”
“I want to go back again….”
That kind of experience is key to understanding what Jesus is saying
in this story about the rich man and Lazarus.
If you haven’t had that experience of being served
by the ones you went to serve,
then you might not get this story at all.
Lying at the rich man’s door was a poor man named Lazarus…
At the door… at the front door…
Imagine a homeless man setting up camp at our front door,
a man with some kind of skin disease…
Would we invite him in to dinner?
Would we put together some food and bring it out to him?
Would we sit on the front steps and eat with him?
Would we give him some cash to go buy some food?
Would we offer to take him to a place for the homeless?
Would we call the police, hoping they’d do something with him?
Or would we ignore him - hoping he’d go away,
or at least go next door?
What would we do?
We can't come to understand the message of this parable
without considering the distance between us and the poor:
or better put,
we need to consider the distance we keep between the poor and us.
That was the rich man’s problem:
Lazarus was right at his front door
but the wealthy man didn’t tend to his needs.
The man’s sin isn’t being wealthy -
his sin is not caring for the poor man at his door.
Only a small part of this story takes place at the rich man’s door -
most of it takes place in the after life.
But there, again, the story is about keeping distance.
It’s about a great chasm between the suffering and the comfortable.
But here the table has been turned:
it’s the rich man who’s left on the doorstep of suffering,
while the poor man is finally at peace.
Each time the rich man closed the door on Lazarus,
he widened the chasm between them
until there was no way to bridge the gap.
Each time the rich man failed to feed Lazarus
he denied himself the taste of joy that comes
from sharing what one has with those who have less.
(It's that "taste of joy"
that makes our young people want to go back
to serve the poor again.)
Each time the rich man made sure of his own ease
and his family’s comfort
he became less and less aware of the suffering of others,
less and less inclined to reach out to others -
even to someone at his own front door.
In something of the same way, we who live in the suburbs
run the risk of losing sight of the poor
who are distanced from our front doors by miles of invisible fences
that keep them away from us, and us away from them.
The stark scene with which Jesus ends his story here
isn’t meant to frighten us - it’s meant to teach and invite us.
The story invites us to open the doors
that keep us from meeting and caring for those who are “outside”
the circle of our own comfort.
Jesus isn’t calling us to feel guilty or become do-gooders:
both would be lessons too easy to learn.
He’s teaching us what our parishioners learn at soup kitchens:
that, indeed, the poor have something more to offer us
than we have to offer them.
He’s inviting us to discover the peace that comes
from sharing what we have with those who have so much less.
He’s inviting us to develop a hunger for feeding others.
He’s inviting us to close the gap that separates us from those in need
before the gap becomes a chasm our selfishness can’t bridge.
Nary a one of us here deserves a seat at this altar,
the table of the riches of Christ, prepared as a banquet for us,
where the one whom we should serve - serves us -
and nourishes us to serve one another.
In our Communion at this table, Jesus closes the great chasm
between the human and the divine and becomes one with us.
Pray that we become what we receive:
that we learn to serve in the needs of others
the one who came to serve each of us.
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