Tuesday, September 21, 2010

An Angel at the Door (Part II)

Reflections on the Readings

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 26, 2010 - Year C

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

By Dennis S. Hankins


Readings For This Sunday

An Angel at the Door (Part II)

"And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores." - Jesus

Last week I told about my Daddy, and of his compassion to entertain strangers and their needs.  He did this believing that showing such hospitality to strangers, 'some have entertained angels unawares.' (Hebrews 13:2)  Perhaps it is good to remember that Jesus said,  "You always have the poor with you." (Matthew 26:11)

There are two types of poverty in today's gospel.  On the one hand, there is Lazarus, described as a poor man.  Obvious traits of his poverty include lack of food, inadequate clothing, and sleeping on the street.  On the other hand, the well clothed and housed and fed rich man is poor in a worse way.  I don't mean to minimize one iota the plight of Lazarus, the poor man.  However, to be spiritually bankrupt with no concern for eternity and  with no vision for those in need is to be poor.  In comparison, Lazarus with only the dogs for his comfort, is a King in waiting.

Emperor Valerian ordered the beheading of Pope Sixtus II, August 6, 285, after the pope refused to offer sacrifices to the Roman gods.  Thereafter, a Roman prefect, coveting the riches of the Church, ordered Deacon Lawrence to hand over the Church's treasures.  The good Deacon  requested three days to gather up the Church's treasures.  Lawrence, one of seven deacons of Rome, was in charge of distributing alms to the sick and needy.  After three days, he invited the prefect to the anteroom where the Church's treasure was located.  Opening the door, the prefect was greeted by the city's poor, sick and crippled.  Enraged at this, the prefect ordered Deacon Lawrence to be grilled alive on a gridiron.  According to tradition, he told his executioners, "This side's done. Turn me over and have a bite."  St. Lawrence is the patron saint not only of the poor but of comedians as well.

From earliest times, the Church ministered to the poor.  It is St. Peter who tells the man born lame, "Silver and gold have I none, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk."  Taking the lame man by the right hand and raising him up, the man received strength in his feet and ankles.   At this he went away walking, and leaping, and praising God.(Acts 3)

The record of the New Testament concerning the early Church is that there was not a needy person among them.  Many who were owners of lands and houses sold them and donated the proceeds to the Church.  Soon afterward, the Church appointed Deacons and the apostles laid hands on them to assist with the daily distribution to the widows and the poor of the Church.  The Church from its beginnings lifted up the poor, advanced the dignity of women, and for these 21 centuries remains an advocate for the unborn, the elderly, and the marginalized of society.(Acts Chapters 4, 5 and 6)  

It is St. Paul who reminds us that the strength of the Church is not according to worldly standards.  Describing the foolishness of God as wiser than men, and the weakness of God as stronger than men, Paul explains:  "God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are."(1 Corinthians 1:24-28)  

The Church turned inward will worry mostly about its coffers.  The Church reaching out will be a Church filled with the compassion of Christ.  The compassion of Christ poured out upon the weak and the foolish, the lowly and the despised reminds the Church of her true strength and power.  It is from the cross of Christ the Church receives such divine energy, while never trusting in eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.(1 Corinthians 1:17)

Amos the prophet warns those who take their comfort in beds of ivory, who relax comfortably on their couches, with plenty to eat.  "At ease in Zion," is how the prophets speak to the people; drinking wine from the finest bowls, massaged with the finest of oils, listening to the best music money can buy, while the poorer of the land can barely scrape up a meal.  This is much like the rich man in today's gospel:  clothed in purple and fine linen and feasting sumptuously every day, while  Lazarus desired just the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table.  But even the crumbs are a feast beyond his reach.

The angels at the door are our neighbors.  They come from all types of brokenness and bitterness, these sacred strangers among us.  Within their hearts, however, remains the imprint of their maker's signature.  From deep inside they cry to be loved, to be forgiven, to be born again.  It is these, the fatherless and the widows, the bowed down and the captive, the oppressed and the hungry, with whom the Lord keeps faith.

When Lazarus died, he was carried by the angels of heaven into the presence of father Abraham.  The rich man died and was buried.  And opening his eyes in a place of torment, he cast a wistful eye upon Lazarus; whom he saw afar off, resting peacefully in Abraham's bosom.  It is in this life we make the bed we will sleep on in the next.

Let us love one another with a generous heart of hospitality; for in so doing, some have, without even knowing it, assisted angels. 


Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. His website is www.dennishankins.com

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