FROM A READING FOR SEPT. 25, 26TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
'If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead...' -- Luke 16:31


As children, many of us, in a fit of anger, once turned to our parents and yelled, "I hate you!" Most parents don't lose any sleep over that.

It's one thing to say those words at the age of three, and another thing to say them at the age of 30. The words are the same, but there are implications to saying them as a child that we simply don't understand until we get older.

Yet, some implications of our actions and words are harder to appreciate than others. Jesus is notoriously concerned with pointing out specific implications that some of us never seem to notice, no matter how old we are.

He follows in the footsteps of classic Hebrew prophets like Amos (6:1a,4-7), the first of the "book prophets." (Prophets like Elijah and Elisha preceded Amos by a century, but there's no "book" of Elijah or Elisha.) Active in Israel during the eighth century BCE, Amos points out that even the "good folk" who frequent the national shrine at Bethel don't care about the collapse of the country around them.

Though they'd never admit it, their actions are a sign of their lack of empathy for all but themselves. Complacent in their plush lifestyle, they don't even notice the disconnect between themselves and the vast number of poor people living around them.

The fatted calf
Among other things, Amos accuses them of practicing something many of us take for granted today: "eating calves from the stall." These animals aren't fattened by grazing in the field, but are fed grain that the poor could eat, just so their meat would eventually be a better grade than that produced by grass-fed animals.

We could not have a better Gospel passage today (Luke 16:19-31). It dovetails perfectly with our Amos passage. Just as the faithful at Bethel don't notice the implications of their lifestyle, so Luke's rich man never seems to notice Lazarus "lying at his door." He's consumed with the quality of his clothes and the items on his banquet menus. Stray dogs pay more attention to Lazarus than the wealthy owner of the house.

Jesus warns their roles will be reversed after death, when it's too late to do anything to affect the afterlife. Such a belief can be based not just on resurrection from the dead, but on a proper reading of the Hebrew Scriptures (Moses and the prophets). Jesus says the way we live our lives here and now has eternal implications.

Better with age
No wonder the unknown author of I Timothy (6:11-16) encourages us to "compete well for the faith." Just as, on a natural level, we continue with age to better understand the effects of our words and actions, so our faith takes us beyond the present state of our knowledge and experiences to surface the deeper implications of what we say and do -- to find meaning in people, things and situations which many around us never seem to notice.

Faith really is a lifelong "competition" with ourselves. We're expected to see people, things and situations with different eyes today than the eyes with which we saw them yesterday.

One of our greatest obstacles is our complacency with the way things are -- especially when others are being hurt by the way things are. I worry that the risen Jesus might not give me a bye at the pearly gates, just because "I didn't notice."