26th Sunday Year C - Homily 3

Homily 3 - 2013

 This Sunday is Social Justice Sunday.  As is their custom, the Australian bishops have published their annual Social Justice Statement.  This year, taking its lead from today’s Gospel, the Statement addresses the issue of world poverty.  The Statement is timely, in light of the fact that, thirteen years ago, when we marked the beginning of the third millennium, just under two hundred nations agreed to what they called Millennium Development Goals.  The first of those goals was to eliminate the worst of the world’s poverty by the year 2015.  Two years to go!  They agreed that by devoting 0.7% of their annual GDP to world development, they could meet the world’s major needs.  Australia has never mustered the political will to meet that undertaking.

The Statement spells out clearly and simply the statistical details.  It alerts us to the need to continue to influence public opinion so that, as a nation, we accept our obligations as responsible and influential members of the global community.  As Pope Francis has been reminding us lately, changes of attitude need to precede structural changes.  What we all need is a radical conversion of heart.  

To begin with, do we Christians even really believe that Jesus has anything truly useful and relevant to say to political realities?  Today’s Gospel passage is a case in point.  It is a quaint story with its talk of the bosom of Abraham, Hades, and an unbridgeable gulf separating the two.  Can we look beyond its quaintness to suspect what it really might be suggesting?  What might be the unbridgeable gulf separating the rich man and the poor man?  

Perhaps, it is a question of mindset. Of himself, the poor man had nothing to rely on.  He needed others.  He had to learn to accept that he could not live without others.  His only hope, right throughout his life, was mercy.  To the rich man, mercy was totally irrelevant.  He did not need it.  He was totally self-sufficient.  It just did not figure in his mental make-up.  Though the story does not say so explicitly, he probably saw himself as a self-made man and convinced himself that he deserved all he had.  Two diametrically opposed attitudes, setting up an unbridgeable gulf.

The poor man’s learning to rely solely on the mercy of others stood him well for the Kingdom experience.  Relying on the mercy of God would have come easily, instinctively.  The rich man’s proud self-sufficiency and independence closed his heart to the only God there is, the God who is only, totally, mercy.  

Interestingly, the rich man thought that the witness of someone risen from the dead would be sufficient to lead his brothers to change.  How do you see the risen Christ?  A triumphant conqueror – not all that different, when you come to think of it, from the kind of company probably kept by the powerful rich man?  Yet, when the Gospels picture the risen Christ, it is as the one still bearing the nail holes in his hands, his  feet and his side.  The risen Christ is the risen victim, the risen crucified and rejected one.

All this says to me, “Watch out, John!”  What am I on about?  Becoming perfect, self-sufficient, independent, trying to deserve eternal life?  Or is my focus learning my need for mercy, learning to see and to accept my inherent neediness, letting go my drive to deserve, or to build up some non-existent bank account of merits, etc.?  And if it is this, who might help me honestly adopt that attitude?

Let us get back to the issue that we started with – Australia’s place and responsibilities in the contemporary global world.  Do we need to learn that we do not deserve the wealth we have as a nation, and the natural resources concentrated in our part of the world?  Would it help us to learn solidarity, not primarily with the powerful, but with those most in need?  Through that genuine solidarity with those poorer than ourselves, could we learn to become, and enjoy being, more human?  Can they help us to learn to look at life through the eyes of Christ, through the eyes of the victim of the world’s violence?  Things can look different depending  on where we stand, and on whether we are looking up or looking down.

Is the way to happiness the way of humble openness to those most in need? and genuine solidarity with them?  And if so, where can I begin, right here, right now?