One Monk of the Order of Saint Benedict

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The Word of God and the Body of God reveal each other -- the homily worships both.

March 12, 2009

For Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

Luke 16:19-31

Just before telling this parable, the Lord told us to make friends of the poor for ourselves by means of wealth that in itself is unrighteous, so that, when wealth fails, the poor whom we have befriended with wealth may be the ones who welcome us into the everlasting dwellings [16:9].
Then the Lord told us we are not able to serve both God and wealth [16:13].
Upon hearing all that, the Pharisees laughed, since they were lovers of money [16:14].
So the Lord told them the parable we have just heard.
The rich man did not use his wealth to be friendly to Lazarus the poor homeless man who slept outside the rich man’s door.
The parable upholds far more than the obligation to help the poor as a condition for escaping the flames of the netherworld and going instead into comfort on high.
Beyond underscoring God’s demand that we give alms to the poor, the Son of God is also telling some of the truth— but not all of it yet— about death, judgment, the afterlife, and the resurrection.
He is telling this parable for the Pharisees.
At that time in Jewish history, the afterlife was a controversy, with the Sadducees thinking one way, the Pharisees another way, and Jesus revealing more than either side believed.
The Old Testament had not settled the matter either way.
The oldest Jewish Biblical understanding was that after death there was nothing but everlasting silence and darkness for all men, good and bad, Jew and non-Jew.
No punishment in hell, no heavenly reward, no resurrection.
That’s what the Sadducees still believed in the days of Jesus.
The Pharisee beliefs about the afterlife were relatively new to Judaism in the time of Jesus.
The more recent Old Testament writings, the writings closer to the days of Jesus, had begun to teach some sort of punishment for the wicked after death, but the meaning of those writings was not clear until Jesus came and made it clear.
The Pharisees believed that law-abiding Jews would rise from the dead in a future that would see the faithful children of Israel in EARTHLY wealth and EARTHLY triumph.
No one— no Sadducee, of course, but also no Pharisee— believed that men would ever live face to face with God in heaven.
Sadducees and Pharisees agreed that in heaven lived God alone.
Pharisees believed angels served God; but Sadducees did not believe angels were real.
Sadducees and Pharisees believed that God made the earth, not heaven, to be the home of man.
So what did Jesus clear up or newly reveal?
Jesus taught that everyone would rise from the dead, the good and the bad, the Jew and the non-Jew.
That was unbelievable to both Sadducee and Pharisee.
Jesus taught that the bad would rise from the dead—BODILY— and then be condemned to suffer everlasting punishment.
That was unbelievable to the Sadducee, but not to the Pharisee.
Jesus taught that the good— the good Jew and the good non-Jew— would rise BODILY from the dead and see God face to face in a new and everlasting joyful communion of heaven and earth.
That was unbelievable for both Sadducee and Pharisee.
You and I, after more than two thousand years, you and I as Christians are far too accustomed to thinking of men going to heaven to live face to face with God.
That truth was absolute, enormous news in the days of Jesus.
It was part of the truth that got Jesus killed.
The testimony that man would be in heaven was the last straw that got St. Stephen killed.
They let Stephen speak for a long piece at his trial— longest speech in the Bible— but they killed him as soon as he dared to say, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of MAN standing at the right hand of God.”
A long homily can get you killed, particularly if your listeners are Sadducees and Pharisees.
But seriously: ignoring the poor is a wickedness that will put you in hell.
That’s the moral lesson from Jesus in his Gospel today.
However, he puts in a twist.
Even if a man rose from the dead to warn the living face to face, men would not repent.
Jesus rose from the dead, and did not bother showing himself to those who did not already believe in him.
The Risen One did not bother to show himself to the High Priest, the scribes, the Pharisees in general, the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin or National Council of Elders.
The Risen One did not go to them, and use his resurrection as “The Big Stick” to prove that he was right and they were wrong.
They would have to accept the testimony of his believers, just as his believers had accepted his testimony that he had seen the Father even before his death and resurrection.
Testimony demands of me more freely given faith and humility than getting slapped by the Risen One.
The testimony of the Eucharist demands of me untold faith and lowliness of heart.
In the Eucharist, I am the poor man sleeping and begging outside God’s door.
In his Eucharist, God feeds me far more than the scraps that fall under his table.
He takes me into his house.
In his Eucharist, he breathes his Spirit of adoption upon me and into me.
He clothes me as his son and heir.
In his Eucharist, he feeds me with his own self.
Now I am the rich man dressed in all-surpassing finery and dining everlastingly with immeasurable sumptuousness.
By his Eucharist, I am endlessly more accountable than those who do not believe the resurrection of Christ.
Should I now turn and dare to ignore the poor, and never repent, I would be trampling the boundless, precious goodness of my Father, and go to hell by the word of the Lord’s Gospel today.

That God Be Glorified in All


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