26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I was giving a talk a while back on stewardship, and how to me, stewardship was not about fundraising and money, giving of your time, talent and treasure. I figure that most folks support what they love, and so stewardship is all about falling in love with Jesus again, and by extension, His church and the parish. As I was talking about falling in love with your parish, I saw a man in the front row becoming more and more agitated. He was actually getting angry.
And so I stopped and asked him what was wrong. He said, “But what if you don’t love your parish, especially your priest? What if they have not been there for you when you needed them? What if they have just blown you off and don’t really care about you?” He then went on to tell me that he was suffering from cancer and had reached out to his parish priest. It took the priest a couple of days to even call him back, and then when they did talk the priest made some flippant remarks and said maybe he’d have time to visit the next week.
The man said that he was a Knight of Columbus and he had just finished doing some repairs on the church building. He was very involved in the parish and now felt that he had been abandoned in his time of need. How could he fall in love with something like that?
And you know, I didn’t have an answer for him. Whatever the situation truly was – I was only hearing one side of the story – it didn’t matter. What mattered was that this man was hungering for something and he wasn’t being fed. He longed to feed on the scraps of his priest’s free time and didn’t even get that.
Did the priest truly not care? Was he really more concerned with his own life than that of his parishioner? I have no idea. All I know is that Lazarus was being overlooked again.
It’s tough being a priest, and I don’t want to single priests out. I am just giving an example. However, we expect our leaders to be there for us when we need them, and we feel betrayed or less than worthy when they don’t give us what we want. I am probably very guilty of this myself. I have no idea when I have made a passing remark or been too involved in my own world to see when people are reaching out to me. Major issues such as a health scare or marital problems usually get my attention. It’s the small things, the little cues people give off, that I sometimes miss. It is not indifference, it is more inattention. But people notice.
I think people have more of a problem with indifference than outright hostility. I can deal with it if you have a problem with me openly. I know what that is and I can figure out a way to handle it. But indifference is more subtle. You really don’t know why someone seems to be ignoring you or minimizing what you are saying. We don’t often know the person’s intent, and so we assign it to them. Most times we think the worst and then keep it within ourselves, and the other person doesn’t even know there is a problem.
The man in my seminar never told his priest how he felt. He just let it stew within him until something I said brought it bubbling to the surface. And that man, who had been a leader in his parish, transferred his distrust of his priest to the entire parish, and he ceased to do anything there anymore. He just went to the early Mass on Sundays because it was quiet and he could sit there without anyone bothering him.
That was the rich man’s sin today. In none of these readings today do we hear that wealth is evil and poverty is a virtue. Jesus isn’t saying that all the rich will go to hell and all the poor will go to heaven. This is not pitting the rich against the poor and vice versa in class warfare. This is all about watching out for one another. It is about being attentive, not being indifferent.
The rich man never directly hurt Lazarus. He never oppressed him or stole from him. The rich man’s sin was that he never even noticed Lazarus! The sin of the rich man was not that he was rich, it was that he was not a good steward of the gifts he had been given. He had grown complacent in his prosperity to the point where he assumed it would always be there. His complacency blinded him to the need of his fellow man right outside his door.
We have no idea whether or not the rich man was a good man or if Lazarus was a bum. We don’t know why Lazarus was in his state or how the rich man got his wealth. Not important. All we know is that Abraham says that each was in the position they received from God.
We are all given gifts from God in some measure or other. Some people are given much, some virtually no material goods at all. Some are given great talents while others just enough to get by. We can argue about the fairness of it all some other time. What’s important is not how much you are given; it is what you do with what you have.
Recall what Jesus says in Matthew chapter 25, on how we will be judged. Those folks who wouldn’t be going to heaven didn’t even know they were doing anything wrong when they ignored the hungry, the thirsty, the naked and the poor. Didn’t matter.
Turn the story around. What if the rich man had come down with leprosy or some other horrible disease, and Lazarus knew about it but did nothing? Or even worse, didn’t care because he was so wrapped up in his own situation? Would their places in heaven be reversed?
There are plenty of good rich people and plenty of bums. But all of us are rich in some ways and poor in others. I love one of the Prayers of the Faithful options in the marriage rite that prays for “the hungry rich and the hungry poor”. We are all hungry, aren’t we? We are all at times the rich man and at times Lazarus. And most of us are spiritually poor, especially when we are materially rich.
Paul speaks to Timothy today about using the gifts he has been given. “But you, man of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.” Those are the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and we will all be judged on how we use those gifts.
We hear a lot about giving back. People who have wealth or fame seem to have a need to give back to society or something. That may be a worthwhile thing to do, but what are they giving back to? And why think of it as giving back, as if there’s some sort of quid pro quo involved in success. No, it must be seen as gift giving. We receive the gift from God and then pass it on to others because that’s what a gift is.
I think that most people would give up many of the things that make their lives easier if they just had more time with the important people in their lives. I know our children would really rather spend more quality time with their parents than have all the toys and electronics and stuff we give them. Even if it doesn’t seem like it.
I know that the most important part of my ministry, and Fr. Stan’s and Deacon Bob’s, is our presence to our people. Just being there for you and with you is what matters. Yeah, we’re going to screw up sometimes and say something careless or disappoint you, but heck, that’s what all that forgiveness stuff is for. I think all of us intend to do good, and so I try not to think ill of anyone. Try to think the same of us. It’s hard sometimes, but I think that’s the best way to live as a steward of the gifts we’ve been given.
Because the greatest gift God has given us is one another.