26th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Amos 6:1,4-7 ¾ 1 Timothy 6:11-16 ¾ Luke 16:19-31
September 26, 2010
“Fight the good fight of faith.”
If we reduce the spiritual life to something trivial, something two-dimensional, we’re in trouble. We need a deep understanding of the battles that make up the spiritual life, the good fight of faith. One way that Christians often reduce the meaning of the spiritual life to the moral life, and the meaning of the moral life to avoidance of punishment, is for him to think that the whole of the spiritual life is about “staying away from mortal sin”. A well-meaning Christian might thus say to himself, “As long as I stay away from mortal sin, I’m on my way to heaven.”
Obviously, it’s incredibly important to stay away from mortal sin: we might say it’s foundational. But you only build a foundation in order to put something on top of it. When someone looks at a house, the foundation had better be there, or the house isn’t going to be. But when someone admires a house, he doesn’t focus on the foundation. When we die, and God judges our soul, the foundation had better be there. But that won’t be God’s focus.
What are we building upon the foundation of our Christian life? Above and beyond staying away from mortal sin, we are called to choose among many good things, and to do the greatest amount of good that we can in this world. That’s where the parable of the rich man and Lazarus comes in.
Jesus begins by describing the rich man and Lazarus. They stand in sharp contrast to each other. Actually neither stands: even their postures contrast. The rich man reclines at table, while the other lays before a gate, excluded from the palace. The action of the parable takes place following their deaths, which reveal the truth of who these two are. Lazarus, the one who was poor and sought comfort at the gate of the rich man, longing to enter his presence, is taken after his death into the bosom of Abraham, a metaphor for the very heart of God.
Yet Lazarus is not the focus of Jesus’ parable. The focus is the rich man, who resembles the Pharisees, and who very likely in some measure resembles you and me. The rich man, in whose presence everyone wanted to dwell on earth, descends after his death into the depths of solitude. He is completely alone. This, in fact, is one description of Hell: utter isolation. One philosophe claimed that “Hell is other people.” The contrary, in fact, is true.
Jesus’ parable, however, is not just a warning about what we have to fear if we are not generous. For even if the rich man was selfish in this world, he does shows some concern for others as he faces eternal isolation. He seems to have a selfless desire to help his brothers, who are living the same life that he had. But in Hell nothing of this sort is possible. There, everyone is cut off from everyone else.
This is the problem with death-bed confessions. This is the problem with waiting until tomorrow to begin praying seriously for others. Even if we are somehow converted at the last moment of our life on earth, we have lost the opportunity to bring others closer to God. We must each day, beginning today, take up the good fight that
speaks of in
the second reading. Not only are our own
souls at stake. We are put here on earth
for the sake of others, in order to give our selves for the sake of
those whom we love. This is what Christ
does in giving us His Body and Blood. Saint Paul