“The Goal of Sensitivity to the Needy”
September 25, 2016: The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 21)
Amos 6: 1 – 7/ Psalm 146/1 Timothy 6: 17 – 19/ Luke 16: 19 – 31
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
We, as the Church, are really the object of the parable today. It is confronting us. We are the rich man in the parable; we have been blessed; we have been given what we need and more. Our God is always more than enough. There is a reason behind why we are given more and this is so that we can give to those who are in need. We are blessed to be a blessing.
We are the rich man, the Church; and Lazarus is the poor that we need to minister to. We need to be sensitive to the needy. Many times, they are just right at our gate, knocking on our door, wanting to get in, and needing to be fed and to be ministered to. What we have is not our own; what we have is to meet our needs and the extra to meet the needs of others. What God has given us is more than enough, including material things. If we don’t believe this, we do not believe God. We cannot receive the blessing and we forget God for Whom all good things come and we ignore His purpose and His command.
We are meant to meet the needs of the needy. Dogs are not meant to comfort the needy or to lick their sores. Dogs don’t have enough, but we do because we have been blessed. In Deuteronomy 8:18a, Moses warned the people before they entered the Promised Land, and he told them, “I am telling you that when we get to the Promised Land, you will have inheritance. You will have pieces of property on which you can plant and you can harvest the fruit of it. You will have houses, vineyards, and cattle. God will bless you, but don’t forget that God is the One who gives you the ability to prosper and to make wealth. You might get there and say, ‘Well, I planted this. I harvested this. With my own sweat, I did this. I earned this. Why would I share it to a foreigner who doesn’t have any inheritance? Remember, you were in Egypt and God helped you and got you out of your situation. Now, He has blessed you so that you can be an instrument in getting people out of their miseries and their needs. Just like what God did for you and through you.”
It is sad that many people forget God who took them out of their wilderness. It is like a formerly problematic businessman who got bankrupt and asked God for help; and God sent someone to help him and fixed him out of the ash heap and prospered him. When he prospered, he forgot that he came from the wilderness and that God helped him. God expects him to do the same thing and help others and not to be arrogant to say, “I did this.” Remember, it is God who gives you the power or ability to prosper and to make wealth. Even if you think that you worked for it, it was God who gave you the blessing of ability to make wealth.
Don’t fix your hope on the uncertainty of riches because they are uncertain. How many rich people went bankrupt? I have shared that 80% of lottery winners in America, within one year, have gone broke. This shows us the uncertainty of riches. If we forget God and the reason He blessed us, then, the blessings will turn into curse and it will be a woe to us. Amos said in chapter 6:1,4,6, “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure in the mountain of Samaria, those who recline on beds of ivory And sprawl on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock
And calves from the midst of the stall, who drink wine from sacrificial bowls while they anoint themselves with the finest of oils, yet they have not grieved over the ruin of Joseph.”
In Revelations 3:17, Jesus was addressing the church at Laodicea and He told them, “You say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.” Jesus was saying this because when one is rich and thinks that he is already made, and yet because he doesn’t use the blessings that God gave him according to His instructions, he is actually poor, miserable, and wretched.
Pope Francis, in the same sermon out of this parable, said it is a sinful state to be insensitive to the needs of those who are suffering and are in need of help. In Matthew 25, in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, the greatest offense condemned by Jesus was not the sin of commission, like what we see now – rape, corruption, theft and robbery. What was condemned was the inactivity, the insensitivity. When God blesses us, He expects us to be a blessing ourselves. In the Parable of the Talents, the person blessed with one talent did not do anything with it, did not multiply it, and help others with it, and this was condemned. In our eyes today, as Christians, the grievous sins are those that what we think like homosexuality and rape. These are not good in the eyes of God, but also in His eyes, the gravest sin is when we ignore the needs of those He actually put in our way and sends to our door. It is the sin of omission, not commission. There is nothing wrong with one being blessed with wealth and material things, but the parable talks about everything we have from God.
There is a video that is very confrontational that puts side by side pictures of poverty on one hand and on the other hand pictures of mansions, limousines, jets and teachings of prosperity for Christians by big name celebrity preachers. These preachers say that the will of God is for you to have lots of money and the next scene would be refugees from certain countries, needing help, drowning in the ocean trying to get to countries where they would be welcome. The countries that should welcome them are those that are prosperous and yet they close their borders on them saying, “You are not worthy. You are not people, but refugees and we don’t have room for you. You will take away from our wealth.” This is sad and it is sadder if this is true of the Church, too.
Remember that we are blessed to be a blessing. The same people that are in these countries were refugees themselves. Somebody welcomed them to their shore. What God doesn’t want us to do is to receive help when we were needy and deny help to others that are needy. This is what God really dislikes. His will for us is fullness of life. There is nothing wrong with us enjoying material things among many others that God has blessed us with, but what God wants from us is abundant life. This is what Jesus died for to give to us.
In 1Timothy 6, St. Paul says that God’s will for us is life indeed. It is not just the “prosperity gospel” that only talks about material things. God wants to richly bless us. He richly, abundantly supplies us all things to enjoy. God wants us to enjoy things, but we are not to be enslaved to them. We enjoy things from God by using them in the proper way, and this is way beyond the temporal things.
God is from Whom all blessings, all good things come. There is a condition for us receiving these blessings. He says that we are to be rich in good works. Don’t just be rich in what we think it is. Again, it is way beyond God. Be rich in good works, be generous and be ready to share with those in need. Store up treasure of good foundation for the future. What many people hold on to is uncertain and if we are going to talk about good investment, this is best. Some rich people, even Christians, are not only rich in money, but also in arrogance, in haughtiness. They think that because they have money, people are lower than them. They think they can shout at other people; they think they are wiser; they think they are more important than other people. I have been a crew in a fast food restaurant and I have seen how people who think they have treat other people whom they think are underprivileged. This is sad not thinking that they are human beings like they are. They are like brothers; God’s children; the least of Jesus’ brothers. It is not for them to be shouted at, to be condemned at, and to be pointed a finger at, but there is a reason God brings them to us.
In Luke 12: 15, Jesus said that for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions. Your net worth is not measured by your bank account or your currency. The abundance of it does not make you more important than others. These people have the same form of godliness. They are Christians; they go to church; they say that it is ‘in’ to belong to a church and it has become a status symbol. The apple of God’s eye is the poor and the needy. God wants to use us whom He has blessed to bless and to meet the needs of those who are suffering.
Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” It is not our will or what we think is right, for this is just a form of godliness. Is prophesy, casting out demons and miracles lawlessness? Doesn't that look good? Doesn’t that look holy? Isn’t this something that the Church would do? Yes, many times, but if it is our will, not God’s, then, it is lawlessness. If what we do is right in our own eyes not listening to God’s will, then, that is lawlessness.
What is the Father’s will? Are we doing it or are we doing something that is merely church work or some other holy-looking thing? God’s will is written in Isaiah 58.
Is 58:3, 5-7, 9-10: “‘Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?’ Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers. “Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the Lord?6 “Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke?
7 “Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, 10 And if you give yourself to the hungry
And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness
And your gloom will become like midday.”
Are we amassing for ourselves more than we need and not dividing or sharing our bread with those who are in need? This is the will of the Father. It is not just involving ourselves in Church, but if our Christianity only goes as far as this, and we don’t divide our bread with the hungry, to God it is lawlessness. Jesus said that the poor, we will always have with us. Not for us to point a finger at them, not for us to think, “Thank you, Lord, I am blessed and they are not,” but for us to feed them, to clothe them, and to share our bread with them.
God desires mercy, not sacrifice or not a form of religiosity or godliness. Work that is not according to God’s will is lawlessness, no matter how holy-looking it is, even if it takes a form of godliness. In the book of Judges, Micah had his own priest. He hired him and paid him. The priest did services for Micah and he was at his beck and call and he spoke what Micah wanted to hear. Today, Christians do what Micah did before. Instead of the priests or preachers leaving their house, the people go to them where they preach. Many times, it is in big churches because what they say is what people want to hear. Is this God’s will? People go to the place where they like the priest, not to the place God chooses for them.
In Deuteronomy 26, it carries the instruction, “You shall go to the place where God chooses for you.” It is God who does the choosing for you. His will and what He says is what we obey. Go to the place He chooses for you. Give your offerings to the priest in office that you did not necessarily chose, but God chose for you. You don’t necessarily like him, but God chose him for you. This is His will; this is what you do. It is not somebody you prefer or who tickles your ears or who doesn’t confront you, but he might be the one who talks to you about prosperity and getting what you need. The Lord chooses the place for you and He commands you to give your offerings in this place. 1 Samuel 15:22 says, “Obedience is better than sacrifice.”
We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. We are blessed. We call ourselves Eucharistic Community of the Faithful and it is our nature to be thankful. We need to be thankful for what we have because God has blessed us beyond what we can ask for. Many times, we don’t realize this and we complain. In doing so, we forget what we are expected to do and that is, our abundance came from God, so we are to bless those who are in need. Remember, we were once in need ourselves. We are not always on top; we also need help. Riches are uncertain and that is not worth holding on to. God is worth holding on to and trusting.
Isaiah 60, the Surge Illuminare canticle says, “You are the city of Lord, the Zion of holy One of Israel. Nations will come to your light, kings to the brightness of your rising.” We think kings do not have a need because they have riches, but they don’t have what we have because we are Zion, the holy one of Israel. “You shall call your walls salvation. You will call your gates praise, those gates will be opened continually, day or night, and they will never be shut.” This is the will of God! He has blessed us as a nation, as a people, a chosen race, and a holy priesthood, so that our gates will continually be open.
In Esther 8:8, the king extended his scepter to Esther signifying full authority and blessing. The king said to Esther, “Now you write to the Jews as you see fit, in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s signet ring; for a decree which is written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s signet ring may not be revoked.” The king told Esther, “Do as you see fit because you have been equipped and blessed. It is up to you. Nothing can stop you.” Remember, what we bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. We don't bind people we don't like or we think hurt us or offended us. We bind that which stops the blessings of life from God to reaching people. Our gates are to be opened continually. We have the authority. This is how powerful the Church is.
The name of Lazarus means God is my help. God will help the needy one way or the other, with or without us. The thing is, God has given us the opportunity to participate in His good work. Will we participate or will we wait until God says to us, “I am taking the kingdom from you and I am giving it to another who will produce the fruit of it?” It is our choice, but God commands us to choose life, life indeed, and to choose His will because He wants to bless us. The way to get the fullness of His blessings is to follow His will and to fulfill it. This is His will. This is why He died for us and this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.