TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME 2019
As Abraham says in today’s parable if brothers of the rich man will not listen to the prophets of the Old Testament, they would not listen to the one who is raised from the dead. Those who are focused on this world do not seek the greater wealth offered in the world to come. The prophets of the Lord repeatedly tell the Jews to repent of their worldly ways and seek the salvation offered by God. However, very few ever respond to the prophets’ messages especially when it meant to give up the possessions and power they could see, hear, and taste, for the promises of God that depended solely on faith.
Abraham is correct in his evaluation of the brothers in rejecting the words of one raised from the dead if they are of the same mindset as the rich man. The question we should ask of ourselves is, does he describe us also? Do we listen to the words of Jesus who rose from the dead? Maybe we are still waiting for a personal invitation from Jesus like the rich man wanted for his brothers before we make an effort to reconfigure our lives. If Jesus’ Death and Resurrection are not enough, what then will be sufficient? Does Jesus need to tell us, as he did to Thomas, to place our hand in his side and fingers into the nail marks of his hands? Will that be an adequate reason to seek to reconcile our attitude and actions?
Human nature is inconsistent in responding to the graces that the Lord offers. Something as startling and miraculous as producing enough food to feed five thousand from a few pieces of bread and fish, driving out demons of possessed people, and even causing people awaking from death was not enough to impress the crowds following Jesus for very long. Their response distinguishes the difference between something that appears magical and a change of heart that allows Jesus to enter into us found in faith.
Faith, like when an acorn is planted, needs regular attention from faith-building experiences to grow into a sturdy oak that weathers the even most extreme storms that try one’s beliefs in the saving power of God. Often we may encounter a person who claims, “to see the light” and vows make a dramatic change in life practices, only to see those promises dissipate over time. The allure of offerings of this world can poison and stunt the growth of faith. The oak never matures because the development of faith becomes stalled from a lack of regular prayer, inattention to the Scriptures, and the absence of graces received in the Sacraments. The rich man from the parable demonstrates the fate of those who fail to tend to the sapling of faith.
As the parable tells us, there are two possible fates for us after our death, heaven or hell. If we live like the rich man striving to live out paradise here on earth with little concern with our relationship with God and those we encounter, then we are tumbling down the path the leads to hell. It is evident the rich man failed to consider his destiny after his death; he was wealthy; he had everything the man could desire, and therefore he never experienced suffering. Thus he became inattentive to the meaning of “the pains fo hell.”
Hell is the inverse of heaven. If in hell, we would be across an enormous chasm looking at those in heaven who enjoy the continued glory of God while we, on the other hand, would be permanently separated from the Lord. The pain would be unbearable because there is no hope of relief. In hell, we would not find eternal peace because our pleas of release from this atrocious fire pit would go unheard. There would be a permanent void in our soul where Jesus would no longer reside. No experience could ever be worse than to suffer the fires of hell. If we find ourselves in hell, who can be we blame but ourselves?
If we design our lives to grab whatever we can see, touch or hear to fulfill our desires, then we need to acknowledge our fate might well be hell. When we seek to fulfill our wants, we allow our animal instincts to rule our actions. We wolf down everything that we can obtain much like a dog that eats a piece of meat in two gulps, satisfying our current desires and then begging for more. God gave humans an intellect to envision a future instead of only focusing on the present as occurs with the animals. In reasoning, we can then set goals such as seeking salvation and working towards that achievement.
This parable should frighten us. The parable implies that each person suffers whether here on earth or in hell. Lazarus may have never felt any relief on the doorstep of the rich man. At his death, God took Lazarus to heaven, where the Lord eliminates every pain and care. Suffering on earth does have a conclusion; however, the suffering in hell will be endless. We can be like the rich man, disillusion about his fate, going through life thinking everything is right with the world only to discover the horrors of hell at the moment of death. Only then did the rich man realize that his sins outweighed his goodness to experience the fires of hell.
God, in His merciful love, sent his only son to us to die on the cross and to be resurrected so that we strive to experience the peace of heaven instead of knowing the agony of hell. Let us, therefore, use the reasoning God gave us to seek the promise of the beauty of paradise and not become enthralled with the inadequate offerings of this world. God desire is for us to be in heaven, but unless we are willing to walk through this life with faith in his salvation, he will not be able to save us from ourselves.
Deacon Dan Gilbert