A reading from the prophecy of Amos
(Chapter 6:1a, 4-7)
During this period in the history of Israel, the eighth century before the birth of Jesus, the country is surrounded by hostile foreign powers: Assyria to the north and Egypt to the south. Meanwhile, Israel’s leaders are only into their own pleasures.
The prophet writes, “Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches, they eat lambs taken from the flock, and calves from the stall…. They drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the best oils…. Yet they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph.”
The term “Joseph” refers to the northern part of Israel, settled by the sons of Joseph who was himself the most beloved son on the patriarch Jacob. That kingdom is about to fall to Assyria.
When national leaders become too fixated by their own power and high life, the country is doomed.
“Praise the Lord, my soul…. Blessed is he who keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed and food for the hungry.” Imagine if all nations applied these values. What a world this would be.
A reading from the First Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy
(Chapter 6: 11-16)
Imagine how dangerous it was to be Timothy, a leader with a target on his back, for the Roman rulers sought to kill all the leaders of the young Christian communities.
St. Paul writes to Timothy, the companion he eventually left to lead the Church in Ephesus, “But you, man of God, pursue righteousness devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called.” Timothy’s life and those of countless other leaders of these new communities were always in danger, and tradition has it that he was martyred in his old age.
Today, our leaders in parishes and the bishops in charge of dioceses are also under great pressure to be wise, just, kind, and faithful—no easy task.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
Jesus tells this parable about a poor man named Lazarus and a rich man whom Jesus didn’t name but who is often called Dives, a Latin term meaning “wealthy.” The poor man lay in want but ignored at the door of the rich man’s house. When both men had died, Jesus says, Lazarus “was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.” The rich man, who is in torment in the underworld, begs for mercy from the patriarch Abraham—whom he sees at a distance in the company of Lazarus—first asking Abraham to “Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’’ But Abraham replies that the rich man had all the material comforts during his lifetime while Lazarus went without. Anyway, Abraham says, there is an uncrossable chasm between what we would refer to as heaven and hell. The rich man then asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn the rich man’s father and brothers to avoid his fate, but Abraham says that the rich man’s family knows Jewish religious law, implying that they should know enough to care for those living in poverty. “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,” Abraham says, “neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.” Jesus, of course, would rise from the dead, and the question that has confronted people ever since, people who don’t have to look far from their doorsteps too find those in need, has been, will they listen to him?
Painting, "Lazarus at the Rich Man's Gate," by Fyodor Bronnikov (1886). Public domain.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.