C Cycle – 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time 19
Did you ever wonder if you are doing enough to deserve eternal life? Yet you know from the teaching of the church – the gift of eternal life – salvation is ours through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is nothing we can do to deserve it because the scriptures tell us “God demonstrates God’s own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Yet there is something in us that moves us to strive to deserve it and the problem with that is if we get to a place where we believe we are pleasing God but the truth is we have only satisfied our need to feel good about ourselves.
It is my belief we focus on the wrong things in attempts to be pleasing in God’s eyes.
We strive for holiness instead of striving for a relationship with God. We strive to please God as we as children strive to please our fathers. We seek approval, affirmation and that feeling of being loved. Most of us feel we have failed to give enough love and affirmation to our children. Likewise, they feel that they have not met our expectations, so they satisfy themselves by believing we are hard to please.
We will always wonder if we are doing enough to please God and when we reach the point of believing we have done enough we get complacent and believe we have done enough. We take those same desires into our relationship with God and they betray us into believing we do not measure up to His standard. We fail to realize it is those desires or needs which build a barrier between us and God’s love.
Today we have a story of heaven and hell given to us in a vivid description of what each is like. One place is where we are carried into the presence of God by angels and we receive the reward of a life well lived. The other is a place of torment and anguish where we can daily see what we have lost and will never have.
What law did the rich man break which sent him to that place of torment? We can also ask the question, what did the poor man do to deserve the reward of being in the presence of Abraham.
All we know is the rich man dressed well, dined well and ignored the poor man lying at his gate. We hear about his indulgence or overindulgence in the pleasurable things of life. We do not know if he observed the laws of tithing, we do not know if he attended the temple as required by law or if he constantly violated any of the hundreds of laws given to Moses.
What we do know is he lived well and ignored the poor man at his doorstep. We also know being wealthy was not sinful because we have enough parables of rich people being used as examples of God’s love and mercy. What we learn from the picture of his life is God is telling us more is required than just being faithful to the laws and rituals established. We are also being told how easy it is to be complacent with the demands of being a disciple and a witness of God’s grace.
We easily pray “I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers that I have sinned. In what I have done and what I have failed to do.” Yet we sin daily by sins of omission and we never ever take the time to examine those failings and ask the Spirit to change our hearts so we see where we can serve the kingdom by how we Love God and Love Neighbor.
In fact, we do know from God’s own words we are to take the word of God into our hearts. We should “bind them on our hearts and on our souls and we shall bind them as a sign upon our hands and they shall be as pendants between our eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking with them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall write them on the doorpost of your house and on your gates (Deu. 11:18-21) and if we do all of that we will dwell in the presence of God.
So, the issue with the rich man is where was his heart because he failed to see where God not only blessed him but how he was to use the gifts he was given to help others encounter God.
We can also look at the poor man and ask many of the same questions. What did he do to be carried by angels into heaven? The scriptures describe his pitiful condition and compels us to direct our focus on the failing of the rich man to respond to his need. But is being poor all it takes to be carried by angels into the presence of God? One thing we do know is the poor do not have the resources to be indulging themselves with fine foods because they are too busy dealing with the things, they are facing each day.
This gospel is too easy for us to ignore because it does not apply to us. Yet it should not be ignored because God is challenging us to look at our excesses because we all indulge ourselves in some manner or another. We need to see them for what they are – tricks by the bent one to keep us from growing closer to God.
God has made it clear He wants our hearts more than our presence. He desires disciples not members of a congregation. He is asking us today to examine our lives not by our loyalty but by how much we love. He is inviting us to day to not do something to feel better about ourselves but to open our hearts to feel God’s grace touch it. To feel God’s love, His affirmation and His forgiveness you will miss out on the promise of God to guide you to holiness.
After all holiness is not something we acquire by our effort but by the grace of God’s Spirit moving us to be a part of building the kingdom of God by what we say, by what we do and by overcoming the things we have so often failed to do.