Homily for 26th Sunday of Ordinary, Year C ~
St. Francis Xavier, Mt. Washington KY &
All Saints, Taylorsville KY
September 28 and 29, 2013
September 28 and 29, 2013
There he was: sitting all alone in his miserly cold, dimly lit room. There he was spending time with the one thing that he loved most in the world, the thing that made him feel safe; the thing that separated him from everyone else. There he was counting his money. He had a handy response for anyone who tried to pull him out of this lonely existence. Bah humbug he would say. Bah humbug! I am of course speaking of Scrooge from A Christmas Carol, and while I realize that the Christmas season is still months away, even if the stores will soon be putting out their Christmas displays, Scrooge is too good an image to pass up for today’s Gospel reading.
Scrooge of course is an image for the otherwise nameless Rich Man in today’s Gospel. The thing that I find most striking about our Gospel reading is that the Rich Man knows the name of Lazarus. We know this because he calls out to Abraham saying send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. The Rich Man does not say “Abraham send that dead beggar over here!” No! He knew Lazarus’ name, and in connection with that Lazarus had for sometime sat at the door of the Rich Man, a Rich Man with wealth and brothers, for the Gospel tells us he had five, he therefore had the power to remove Lazarus from his doorstep. Based on this I find it justified to imagine that this Rich Man thought he was doing Lazarus a favor. He allowed Lazarus to be near enough to the house that perhaps from time to time he got a scrap to eat or a little alms money; all the while the Rich Man would tell himself, his brothers, and his guests that he was so very charitable on the occasion of one of his many daily sumptuous feasts. Lazarus, however, was never really treated charitably, for he never had the chance to do what he would have gladly done, that is to eat the scarps that fell from the rich man’s table. Lazarus was always kept separate, on the other side of the door; and yet isn't it curious that the Rich Man knew the name of Lazarus.
Like the Rich Man, Scrooge too knew the name of the lowliest person in his life. Scrooge knew the name of Tiny Tim. He may not have known that Tiny Tim was sick; in fact Scrooge would not have bothered to know that much detail, but it is safe to say that Scrooge would have at least known the names of Cratchit’s children. He may have been surprised by the illness when the Ghost of Christmas Present showed him the scene, but he was not so surprised that he had to ask “who is that?” when Tiny Tim appears. It is one thing to be complacent when there is someone in the world who is suffering and you do not even know that person’s name. Complacency in that all too common instance, while not ok, is understandable when there are so many things going on in our lives right in front of us. Complacency in the face of suffering in the life of someone whom we know the name of, however, that degree of complacency is much harder to excuse.
When Luke sat down and wrote his Gospel he did not name the Rich Man; either Luke or Christ could have easily given the Rich Man a name – they gave Lazarus a name, why not the Rich Man? As in every other occasion of an unnamed character in Scripture Luke is basically leaving a blank underlined by a ‘your name here’ label. We are therefore invited to place ourselves in the story alongside the Rich Man and ask ourselves who we most resemble. It is a product of our fallen existence that we often seek comfort at the cost of complacency. Comfortable complacency is a way of life for many. Those people out there, these people right here, this person standing right here; we all have a tendency to lean towards comfortable complacency even when there is someone in our lives, someone whom we can easily name, someone at arms reach who is suffering. Ask yourselves right now who in your life do you know who needs a kind word and a little help? What is that person’s name? If this is a difficult exercise then I imagine that the lure of comfortable complacency has pulled you in. Surely there is a person at work, a neighbor down the street, another kid in your class, a friend who is too proud to bring up their own pain, a teammate, a sister, a brother, an acquaintance. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a person whom you run into regularly that you avoid even knowing their name, maybe the checkout girl at the grocery store, the guy behind the counter at the gas station, that person on your street that you’ve consciously kept a distance from for fear of getting entangled in their life, that other mother in the pickup line, or that guy that often comes to your favorite hangout spot and sits alone. I dare say that the sin of the Rich Man was not that he had all kinds of stuff and Lazarus didn’t, that surely had a role to play; rather the sin of the Rich Man was keeping Lazarus on the other side so that he wouldn’t feel compelled to share his things. Scrooge too built a wall, a wall made out of gold coins, a wall that insulated him from the world just as effectively as any wall made of brick and mortar could ever have.
Sisters and brother comfortable complacency separates us from those around us; comfortable complacency is a wall, a great chasm, between us and those we could empathize with but choose not to. Fear leads to loneliness. It is easy to see Scrooge as being lonely, but what about the Rich Man? Was he lonely? I’d say a man who throws lavish dinners every night for a select group of people may not seem lonely but effectively is a very lonely secluded person. Does not our world hold up this Rich Man as an example to emulate? Doesn’t our society say ‘forget that person who will drag you down with their problems?’ Aren’t we in fact living in the age of YOLO? An age where you only live once can easily be used as an excuse for running from the problems in your own life, and especially in the lives of those around us? Don’t we know the name of someone whom we’ve kept on the other side of a great wall built of our own self interests? Don’t you know a name?
But wait! Christ knows our name, doesn't he? Sisters and brothers there is good news here, for Christ knows our name! Christ knows the pain in your hearts, Christ knows the walls we build up, Christ knows your fear over letting people in and he knows our anxiety over reaching out to those around us. Christ Jesus knows your name! He knows your name and he is not afraid to cross the uncrossable chasm. When Father Abraham told the Rich Man that no one could cross from one side to the other he was talking about humanities ability to do so. What is impossible for a man is possible for God-made-man, for that is an uncrossable chasm in itself. The Incarnation reveals to us the lengths that God will go to because God knows the names of each and every one of us. The Incarnation and the Resurrection free us from chains of comfortable complacency. Jesus graciously gives us the opportunity to know his name and by knowing and loving his name we have the opportunity to be moved towards loving the names of those around us. Christ Jesus knows our name and he’s willing to do the impossible because of that, not because he has to but because he loves us.