If We Lift Our Eyes
GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim, Sj (The Freeman) - September 30, 2017 - 4:00pm

History tells us the sobering truth: Power corrupts – not always, not everyone. But all too often and not infrequently those whose motives are of the purest, who’s very concern for the rights of God blinds them to the needs of God’s people – all God’s people, not only those whose needs we share.

At first glance, today’s first reading from Amos and the Gospel tell us that this is not a good day for many of us – the men and women of substance.  Amos tells the Jews of his time in words like, “Those who lie upon beds of ivory… eat lechons and steaks… drink Carlos Primero or champagne by the bottles, who frequent high-end golf courses, and get regular massage at the health spa will be the first to be exiled.”

And if you listen to Luke’s Jesus, the Gucci Christians, and those who drive around in SUV, Mercedes Benz, BMW, and Jaguars, who live in exclusive subdivisions, and those who frequent the five-star hotels and casinos will end up in the hot seat, thirstily watching Lazarus and the refugees and migrants making merry on the golf course of paradise.

Now before you despair and give all your millions to the Jesuits, it is important to dig into the deeper meaning of this “Word of God” then and now.

To avoid making the homily too long, let’s focus on Luke’s Gospel.  First, a word on the rich man and Lazarus.  Second, the problem the parable poses to the wealthy and mighty.  Third, the Lord’s solution to the power problem.

First, the rich man and Lazarus. Note one thing well:  This story does not attack the rich man’s riches.  The problem is not that he is rich.  The problem is – he doesn’t care.

We see two contrasting lifestyles.  The rich man is regularly dressed in royal purple, feasting each day with high sugar and cholesterol diet as if there’s no tomorrow.  The contrast is obvious between the high-society living of those who steal by corruption and exploitation and the poor who hardly have one meal a day, and no place to sleep in.

And here is a beggar lying before his door, a beggar full of boils and sores, too weak to ward off the dogs from licking his sores, so hungry that he wants only the scraps that fall from the rich man’s table, only what the dogs might get. The point is, the rich man simply does not care about Lazarus.  And Lazarus is lying not somewhere in Africa or India, or the Smokey Mountain, but right at the gate of his mansion.  He doesn’t have to go looking for Lazarus.  Lazarus is here.

The story ends with a remarkable reversal in death.  The rich man is in Hades.  Here, there’s no feasting – only tormenting thirst; no rustling silk – only painful flames.  And Lazarus?  In “Abraham’s bosom,” in a place of honor, a place of intimacy.  And a chasm separates the two, so wide that no one could cross over from either side to the other.

Now move to the problem the parable poses for the rich and powerful.   Why is the rich man condemned?  Not primarily because he is wealthy.  He is condemned because he never actually noticed Lazarus at his gate.  The first time he sees Lazarus is from Hades – “He lifted up his eyes and saw…”

One of the most unrecognized dangers of wealth is that it can blind us.  We do not see what we ought to see – whom we ought to see.  And we even put up whitewashed fences to cover the eyesore of the human slums from the sight of tourists and foreign dignitaries.

Now that danger threatens not simply from riches.  It hangs over all possessions.  It is not only the plundering officials and his shopping-addicted families, who never really see the crucified other, the three families living in a tiny barung-barong.

The judges, who connives with goons and criminals to extort the helpless; the top-flight scientist, whose prime principle is “We can do it, therefore we should;” the scholars, who locks themselves in books such that people don’t matter as much; the priests, who prefers rules and regulations to compassion; the drug lords, who refuse to look beyond profit to the devastation of the addicts; the businessmen, who denude the forests and environment, who sees only dollars, but are blind to the droughts and floods, the landslides that kill thousands of people every year; the rulers of rich nations, who insist on exploding nuclear bombs at the expense of the people in the poorer countries and the destruction of nature; these and a host of others are not so much evil as blind.  And what has blinded them is the possession they cling on to.

Luke tells us: “He lifted up his eyes and saw…” Only if we lift up our eyes, lift them above our small selves, beyond what we own, will we really see the other, actually see the deprived and degraded, the drug-abased and sexually abused, see the disaster to people in any form of domination.  Only if we lift up our eyes will we be concerned for community.

This leads us to the third point:  The Lord’s solution to the power problem – to the danger of power.  The consoling thing is:  You are not damned because you have more than you need to survive.  Private property is not a no-no; a fat bankbook is not mortal sin; Shangrila and Boracay are not un-Christian.  Gucci or Calvin Klein on your skin is not a damnable offense.

The crux of the matter is the gripping dialogue between the rich man and Abraham.  What the rich man realizes, far too late, is that in neglecting poor Lazarus he was neglecting the law and the prophets.

Follow the dialogue:

“Father Abraham, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may warn them, lest they too come into this place of torment.”

Abraham’s response?  “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them.”   Let them listen to Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself;” to Isaiah: “Defend the fatherless, plead for the widow;” to Micah: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness?”; to Yahweh’s thundering threat that without love and justice your sacrifices are an abomination to heaven.

“No,” says the rich man. “Like me, my brothers will not listen to God’s word in Scripture.  Even if Lazarus appears in a vision or a dream and delivers a brilliant lecture on the Bible and Social Justice, they won’t change their lifestyle.  There’s only one way to get through to them – if Lazarus alive, raised from the dead, drops in on my brothers as a living witness, not only to life after death, but to the flames that awaits the unjust, the bliss that envelops the despised on earth.  I promise you, that will shake them up.”

Abraham is equally emphatic. “No!  If they do not listen to God’s word in God’s Book, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

We might add more than 20 centuries of experience testifying that even a resurrected Jesus, suggested in the closing passage, may not convert a well-entrenched human, who is blind to the grinding poverty that accuses our wealth, who does not see that it is Jesus who lies in rags at his gate.

My brothers and sisters, this weekend confronts us with a critical issue: empowerment in the Church.

As the years go on, the optimist in me says, more and more of you will share Church power, will be empowered to determine decisions that shape Catholic existence – yours and others’.

History tells us the sobering truth: Power corrupts – not always, not everyone. But all too often and not infrequently those whose motives are of the purest, who’s very concern for the rights of God blinds them to the needs of God’s people – all God’s people, not only those whose needs we share.

May I be so daring as to suggest today’s parable to you for taping to your refrigerator door?  Two thoughts in particular:  Whenever you must exercise power, cast your eye up and down – up to the God, who alone is Power, the Power in whom you participate, the Power identical with Love; and down to the Lazarus who should not have to beg for crumbs, whose servant you are.

Let your handbook of power be the Book of which St. Jerome wrote: “When your head droops at night, let a page of Scripture pillow it. Not only “Moses and the prophets” but the Christ, who in his own words “came not to be served but to serve.”

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