HOMILY FOR THURSDAY OF THE 2ND WEEK OF LENT
THEME: SIN OF OMISSION : THE SIN OF ‘RICH MEN’!
BY: * Jer 17 : 5 – 10, Lk 16 : 19 – 31.
HOMILY: I find the parable of the anonymous rich man of today’s gospel one of the richest and most existential teachings of Christ. Two major characters were portrayed in the story ; A rich man (name not mentioned) who trusted so much in his riches, died and found himself in Hades and a poor man, Lazarus (name remembered forever) who trusted in the Lord, died and was carried by the Angels to Abraham’s bosom. The biblical name ‘Lazarus’ means ‘God is my help’. Imagine Lazarus to be a retired righteous civil servant or teacher who was denied his pension and gratuity for refusing to play the corrupt pranks at the Local Government Subtreasury. He sold all he had perhaps to pay his children’s school fees and was left with a motorcycle with which he was riding okada to be able to feed his family. His health was failing him gradually as his motorcycle also got older and more troublesome to maintain. Now imagine he had this big man as Chairman of his local government area who he taught as his headmaster in primary school.
But this politician has become so insensitive that whenever this retired headmaster comes with his problems, he turns him out at the gate. The major problem of this headmaster is the policemen and the ‘Local Government Agboros’ who disturb him everyday from his legitimate business. Finally this man dies of stroke and goes to heaven. The Local Government Chairman also dies of diabetes and goes to hell. Imagine also how the burial ceremony of the two men would be? The latter full of bishops, priests and State dignitaries ; the former perhaps buried by a catechist or if he is owing in his zone, left at the mercy of whoever.
Today’s readings are full of contrasts ; In the 1st reading between the cursed man who trusts in man and ends up like a shrub in the desert and the blessed man who trusts in the Lord and ends up like a tree planted by the waterside ; In the gospel between the anonymous rich man who trusted in his riches and ended up in hades and the faithful poor man ( Lazarus) who trusted in God and ended up in heaven. Theological imaginations assume that this poor man may have been poor not as a result of laziness but due to his righteousness, perhaps he had opportunities of becoming rich in life through dubious means which he resisted.
I just want to reflect briefly also on the prayer of the poor man on earth and what he got as his answer and the prayer of the rich man in hades and what he got as answer : Lazarus prayed to be allowed to eat from the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table but what he got as answer was the licking of the sores from his diabetic foot. The anonymous rich man in hades prayed for Lazarus to help soothe the pain in his tongue and also for prophets to be sent to warn his unconverted brothers on earth but all he got as an answer was the reality of a gulf separating the rich in spirit from the poor in spirit and the fact that no further privilege will be given to people on earth than to hear the gospel from their priests and pastors.
- One essential eschatological message for those who don’t believe in the difference between individual and universal judgment is that this parable makes us see clearly that individual judgment happens immediately after death, Heb 9 : 27 while life continues on earth waiting for the final/ universal judgment, Matt 25 : 31 – 46.
The sin of omission is the most dangerous and most rampant sin committed by christians on earth. Many believers concentrate their moral energies on avoiding sins but do not consider the great sin of their inaction. One other error of modern day Christianity is the exaggeration of mercy and grace at the expense of justice and righteousness. I see in that anonymous richman the life of most of our rich men and even priests who try to avoid sins but neglect the plight of many poor people around them. Christ said : ‘Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not inherit the kingdom of God’, Matt 5 : 20. The rich man was condemned not because he was rich but because he allowed his wealth to make him insensitive to the plight of the poor around him. If you don’t want to be disturbed by the poor, then don’t be rich. Fr Emma Onuh said : ‘When I am hungry and have nothing to eat, it is a physical problem. But when my neighbour is hungry and I have more than enough to eat, it is a moral problem’. Let me conclude with these beautiful words of H Fielding : ‘Riches without charity are of no worth. They are a blessing only to him who makes them a blessing for others’. That is why the rich man of today’s gospel ended up anonymous.
Many of our rich men in Nigeria today will be remembered for nothing. Power and wealth are good servants but dangerous masters. When a little silver comes between you and the world, you begin to see only yourself. Take note that the rich man was condemned not because of his wealth but because his wealth brought him ‘poverty’ and insensitivity. According to Helder Camara, ‘Poverty makes a person subhuman while wealth makes one inhuman’. I said that his wealth brought him poverty because any rich man who cannot help the poor is actually suffering from a worse poverty – lack of contentment and fear of poverty. The philosopher Seneca said that ‘Contentment is natural richness while luxury is artificial poverty’. When wealth is accompanied by faith /trust in God, it comes with compassion for the poor which leads to sharing which is inclusive prosperity – the reward is heaven. But when poverty is accompanied by selfishness and faithlessness, it comes with insensitivity for the poor which leads to stinginess which is exclusive prosperity – the reward is hell fire. As H Fielding puts it, ‘Riches without charity are of no worth. They are a blessing only to him who makes them a blessing for others’.
This wonderful parable reminds us that there may be a reversal of fortunes on the last day – whereby in the end many rich men may become beggars of grace. Many will become anonymous and will be remembered for nothing. Their greatest plight will be the tragedy of unanswered prayers. Like the anonymous rich man of today’s gospel asked for 2 favours which were denied him ; 1) Personal salvation and compassion from Lazarus. It was denied him because he was not merciful himself, Matt 5 : 7, Lk 6 : 36 – 38 and 2) Salvation of his siblings still on earth. But he never cared before about the support of evangelization . Is it not the priests and pastors he neglected before who he now depends on to preach the gospel of salvation to them? Note : That after death, there will be no mercy for the wicked. Those who will benefit from the patrimony of prayers for the faithful departed are those who were merciful themselves while on earth and who invested in the evangelical bank for the salvation of imperfect believers, 1Jn 5 : 16.
May God bless you today.
FR BEN AGBO
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