26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - The Cry of the Poor

Jesus spends much of his public ministry speaking about "the poor." He constantly reminds us that "The poor you will always have with you" and He will not let us become deaf to their cry.  I wonder if the audiences that gathered to hear Jesus ever tired of his almost endless "cry for the poor." Page after page of the Gospel speaks of his unwavering concern for the beggars, the widows and orphans, the homeless, the jobless and the oppressed. We almost want to protest: "What has that got to do with the kingdom of God? Talk to us about holiness and prayer, talk to us about everlasting life. Enough about the poor."

In today's Gospel passage, we have the classic story of the rich man and the beggar, Lazarus. We see the striking comparison between their conditions in this life and in the hereafter.

We hear the cry of Lazarus, but more importantly, we hear "the cry of the rich man", begging God to send someone to warn his brothers and the reply: "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced, even if one should rise from the dead."

The Risen Lord lives on in the church, crying out in the name of the poor. It is that same Risen Lord who continues to warn us not to let our hunger for material wealth blind and deafen us to the needs of our less fortunate brothers and sisters.

If Jesus were walking around the streets of our cities today, we can only begin to imagine his outrage at the conditions we seem to take for granted. He would not merely ask us to take up a collection for the poor and the homeless; he would certainly challenge us to root out the basic causes of this devastating inequality and injustice.

As we try to be attentive to the cry of the poor, we should also listen carefully to the cry of the rich, the warnings of those who have misused and abused their wealth, losing their personal integrity and their God given inheritance of eternal life and happiness.

Listening to the cry of the poor requires a desire to change the present state of things - "to make all things new." The challenge to "make all things new" necessarily implies letting go of the old. We cannot keep clinging to the ways or the things or the people who make us secure and safe. The Letter to Timothy puts it very simply: "pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness." This is the only way that we can acquire the mind and spirit of Jesus.

Acquiring the mind and spirit of Jesus means learning constantly how to let go, how to be willing to die to ourselves, how to rise from our own complacency. Jesus "emptied himself... took the form of a slave - humbled himself...obediently accepting even death, death on a cross."

These Gospel values of dying to self, of letting go, of being humble and obedient are not very popular in today's culture. Unfortunately, we live in a society where many have lost sight of the inestimable value of human life. We "legally" claim the lives of over 4,000 babies everyday by abortion; assisted suicide and euthanasia are becoming widely accepted in some countries and are already being justified by law; we still have an "eye for an eye" attitude towards the death penalty, and we still believe that peace can be achieved through war.

As Christians we are called to proclaim "The Gospel of Life" to the world. So much of what is communicated to us by the media preaches just the opposite: self satisfaction, defending one's rights, protecting one's investments and security. These values all sound fine on the face of things, but they tend to weaken and obscure the radical elements of the Christian message: poverty of spirit, compassion, meekness, peace making, forgiveness, and making all things new.

To listen to the cry of the poor is a radical return to the fundamentals of our faith. It means putting on the mind of Christ. As the Psalmist says, it means "keeping faith forever, securing justice for the oppressed, giving food to the hungry, setting captives free and raising up those who are bowed down."

There are plenty of people like Lazarus in our world, crying out for the scraps from our table. And there are likewise plenty of people like the rich man - totally clueless of what is right before their eyes.

Christianity is not merely a doctrine or a system of beliefs; it is Christ living in us and uniting us to one another in His own Life and Love. As long as we allow the cry of the poor to go unheard, we will remain apart from one another, opposed to one another; and the common unity that the Lord desires - communion among us - will be a precarious and painful thing.

The "great chasm" that distances us from one another will grow ever wider, and we will never truly discover the God who dwells within us.