At first glance, that message seems to be that being Rich is bad – you’re going to hell… and being Poor is good – you’re going to heaven. Did anybody else get that same message? The first reading certainly seems to say that: ‘woe to you, the complacent in zion… lying on your beds of ivory, eating fine foods..’ And then there’s the Gospel – the rich man goes to a place of torment: that sounds like it represents hell. And then this POOR guy goes to the bosom of Abraham, which represents heaven. I noticed there’s nothing in the reading that either of these men did anything to deserve their eternal reward/punishment… so Jesus must be telling us that the rich will go to hell and the poor will go to heaven. Would you agree?
But – if that is the message – let’s follow that line of thought a little bit. If being poor gets people into heaven, then WE should not help the poor – right? Because if we give them money to pull them out of their poverty, then they won’t be poor anymore and they WON’T go to heaven. See what I mean? If Jesus is telling us that the POOR go to heaven, then the LAST thing we should do is help them.
That obviously can’t be the message, because the Bible is full of instructions to HELP the poor.
So – what IS the message? As always, Jesus is teaching more than one message with his parable. To help us understand, I want to share a story:
Larry had inherited the family farm… some of the best land around, with rich, dark soil – and it was near the river so it seemed to always have plenty of moisture. Larry was proud of his farm and he worked it hard….so it seemed everything he did flourished. He planted crops, raised cattle and chickens… and every year, the crop was so big he would add another grain bin to the farm. He also knew how to play the grain market so that each year he sold his grain at a profit at just the right time – AND he always kept enough of his own seed back to plant the next year’s crop.
After a few years, Larry had saved up enough money that he could live very comfortably. In fact, he was so well-off that one spring he decided not to bother planting his seed. He left it in the grain bin and he went on vacation for several months.
That Fall, he returned from vacation and found that there had been a drought that year – and only the farmers with bottom land had any crop to speak of. While he might have felt sorry for the people around him who were going hungry because of the drought, he shrugged it off… HE had plenty of money in the bank – AND he had two silos of grain so he could eat this winter and still have plenty to plant next year.
Winter arrived with a vengeance – when the third blizzard in 2 weeks rolled into the valley, the roads became impassible. If it keeps this up, Larry thought, I won’t get to town again until spring! No problem, He thought – I didn’t want to go into town anyway, with all those hungry people looking at me with empty eyes. I’ll just hunker down here in my cabin until spring. But when Larry went to his Silo to get some grain to eat, the stench coming from the silo made him slam the door in disgust. Apparently an early Spring storm has torn a hole in the silo shortly after he had left for vacation so that water poured into the silo. In the following 7 months, the grain had rotted. Mold, mildew and Rats were all that was left. Larry was struck with terror… he had no food… and no way to get to town – even if there WAS food to buy. All that money in his bank account meant nothing as Larry died a slow death by starvation.
Why did Larry die? Because he was rich? No – other farmers around him were just as rich. It was his COMPLACENCY that was his downfall. Just like the first reading said, “Woe to the complacent in zion”. Larry became so comfortable with his riches that he stopped working. Had he planted seed that year, the bottomland would have supplied enough food to feed the whole town – but instead the seed sat there and rotted…. And half the town starved.
Jesus is pointing out that you and I have been given blessing upon blessing. Not to make us comfortable, but in order to give us something to share with others. God also wants to give blessing upon blessing to the less fortunate people – but how does He do it? …By giving it to you and me so WE can give it to them. What WE have been given doesn’t belong to us – it belongs to the poor. God just allows US to distribute it.
The second point – and maybe even more important – is that God puts the needy on our doorstep for OUR benefit. See – if we want to experience the love and grace that God wants to give us, we experience that by helping someone. Like St. Francis said, “It is in giving that we receive”. So – by us stepping over the poor man on our doorstep, we are ignoring the very means by which God is wanting to give us the ultimate blessing. You get that? Our very purpose as Christians is to Love like our Father loves – and our whole life here on earth is given to us to PRACTICE love so that we can BE more like God. God gives us the life, he gives us the blessings, AND he puts the poor on our doorstep so that we can practice loving. I couldn’t find the quote – but some saint said that the Poor are the greatest gift God has given us!
Who are WE stepping over? Who is on our doorstep – possibly someone we don’t even see…? How about the Hispanics in our community? How about Haiti, which is closer to Miami than we are… right on our doorstep? What about closer to home… our elderly… our homebound folks. What about the kid sitting all alone at the next table over during lunch hour?
God puts them all on OUR doorstep. He begs us to help them so that He can bless us even more. It is in giving that we receive.
That kind of explains what our Grace Co-Op is all about. We try to FIND the people in need and then give our parishioners an opportunity to help. Some people deliver meals every Sunday. Some help sit with the homebound. Some help with firewood – or like next weekend we’re having our first annual Grace Co-Op Work camp. By working together, we experience God’s grace.
When we hoard the blessings and/or ignore the poor on our doorstep, not only are our blessings wasted – like grain rotting in a silo – but we miss out on the Grace that comes from loving others.
So – to sum it all up: It is not our MONEY that is a problem… it is our ATTITUDE about money that is a problem. “Woe to the COMPLACENT in Zion”. It is our complacency which threatens our soul. When we think God has given us all these comforts so that we can simply live in luxury and ignore those around us, then we’ve missed the point of why God gave us our riches.
God does not comfort us to make us Comfortable – but to make us Comforters!