26th Sunday Year C - Homily 4

Homily 4 - 2016

There are more kinds of wealth, of well-off-ness, than monetary wealth – and I score high in all categories. I am psychologically well-off: I have friends, family, security. I am intellectually well-off: I was taught to read and write. I can access libraries, bookshops, the internet. I am physically well-off: I am covered by Medicare; I have health insurance; and there are not too many contagious diseases I am likely to fall foul of around Hamilton. I am socially well-off: I enjoy freedom. War and fighting are a long way away. I have spiritual wealth: I have known God’s love since I was a little child. I have had great teachers over my life, even great popes. And from a monetary point of view, in comparison with most of the world’s population, I am rich. I certainly know I have “enough”.

So the problem of the rich man in the story could well be my problem. What was his problem? We might assume that he was unjust, or that he was unkind to Lazarus – but not a word is said about that in the story, if he was. The story seems to see his problem as  something other than that. It tells us that ‘Lazarus lay at his gate’. So his property had a gate, which meant it had a wall or a fence, too. After he died, that wall had become ‘a great gulf that could not be crossed’ from either side. The rich man had built the wall himself. Presumably, the great gulf was also his construction, a natural improvement, as it were, of the wall.

The wall, or the uncrossable gulf, was simply the physical expression of the rich man’s psychological choice to focus his world around himself and his needs. It protected his ‘Comfort Zone’. The trouble with comfort zones is that, while they seem comfortable, there is a price. To enjoy them, we have to be prepared to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world that might disturb us. Another word for the wall, the uncrossable gulf, could equally be ‘Sovereign Borders’. The problem with them, as Pope Francis said quite early on in his time as pope, is that they tend to deaden our capacity to weep. We deaden ourselves to reality, to the world as it is, and to the suffering of people whom we refuse to see as our sisters and brothers. We deaden ourselves. Our human horizons contract. We forget how to live. Our would-be ‘Shangri La’ seems, however, to be breaking down; and drugs and distractions, bread and circuses, or sheer boredom and existential discontent, are all we have to fill the gap.

Out of profound respect for our human dignity and freedom, God does not violently break down the walls we build so effectively around us. God does not violently invade our personal sovereign borders. They can be dismantled only from the inside. But there is a price. At least there seems to be, because we rarely show much interest in doing so.

But God never gives up. In the story Abraham was of the opinion that, ‘They will not be convinced, even is someone would rise from the dead’. But Abraham did not know Jesus. Jesus is not just anyone, and his death was not just any other violent death at the hands of wall builders. Jesus was a victim who went voluntarily to his death from his conviction of the eventual power of love. He loved even his murderers, and others complicit to their varying degrees in his lonely death. This victim chose to forgive those who killed him.

If we can somehow break through the anaesthetising power of familiarity, perhaps we can see his way, hear his invitation, and find life to the full. He did say we find life by losing life – which is a bit off-putting. But, if only we would believe that we are loved and surrender to being loved, we could well be surprised at the changes that happen within us.