Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, September 25, 2016 — Beware the sin of affluence — Woe to the complacent — Keep the commandments — We only have one ruler and master…. Be persuaded by the one who did rise from the dead….

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 138

Three months from Christmas is a good time to determine where we stand with the Lord….


Reading 1 AM 6:1A, 4-7

Thus says the LORD the God of hosts:
Woe to the complacent in Zion!
Lying upon beds of ivory,
stretched comfortably on their couches,
they eat lambs taken from the flock,
and calves from the stall!
Improvising to the music of the harp,
like David, they devise their own accompaniment.
They drink wine from bowls
and anoint themselves with the best oils;
yet they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph!
Therefore, now they shall be the first to go into exile,
and their wanton revelry shall be done away with.

Responsorial Psalm PS 146:7, 8-9, 9-10

R. (1b) Praise the Lord, my soul!
R. Alleluia.
Blessed he who keeps faith forever,
secures justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets captives free.
R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
R. Alleluia.
The LORD gives sight to the blind.
The LORD raises up those who were bowed down;
the LORD loves the just.
The LORD protects strangers.
R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
R. Alleluia.
The fatherless and the widow he sustains,
but the way of the wicked he thwarts.
The LORD shall reign forever;
your God, O Zion, through all generations. Alleluia.
R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
R. Alleluia.

Reading 2 1 TM 6:11-16

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
when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses.
I charge you before God, who gives life to all things,
and before Christ Jesus,
who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate for the noble confession,
to keep the commandment without stain or reproach
until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ
that the blessed and only ruler
will make manifest at the proper time,
the King of kings and Lord of lords,
who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light,
and whom no human being has seen or can see.
To him be honor and eternal power. Amen.

AlleluiaCF. 2 COR 8:9

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Though our Lord Jesus Christ was rich, he became poor,
so that by his poverty you might become rich.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 16:19-31

Jesus said to the Pharisees:
“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen
and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps
that fell from the rich man’s table.
Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
When the poor man died,
he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
The rich man also died and was buried,
and from the netherworld, where he was in torment,
he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off
and Lazarus at his side.
And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me.
Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,
for I am suffering torment in these flames.’
Abraham replied,
‘My child, remember that you received
what was good during your lifetime
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go
from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’
He said, ‘Then I beg you, father,
send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers,
so that he may warn them,
lest they too come to this place of torment.’
But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets.
Let them listen to them.’
He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham,
but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”

From The Abbot in the Desert
Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Benedictine monastic community, near Abiquiu, New Mexico

My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

Woe to the complacent in Zion!—these words from the Prophet Amos can serve to stir us up a bit on this 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time.  We don’t have to become fanatics to recognize that so much of modern culture is about avoiding those who have nothing, avoiding those who are poor, avoiding those who have problems, and so on.  Most of us want to feel all right about living in a way that makes us comfortable and in a way that practically blinds us to the problems of so many in our world.

The Prophet Amos is famous in the Old Testament, the Jewish Scriptures, for poking at the complacent, for pushing those who have too much to help those who don’t and for reminding everyone that God has given a way to live and we should follow the Lord.  The passage today goes with the Gospel for today:  remember the poor because they are always outside your door and the way that you treat them is important for your salvation!

Today’s second reading is from the First Letter to Timothy and speaks of the virtues of a good person:  “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.  Compete well for the faith.”  None of us would argue with such straightforward advice!  On the other hand, at times we disagree about what it might mean.  Put into the context of the first reading today and the Gospel, it is clear that we must go out of ourselves, pay attention to those who have less than we do and not get so caught up in our own comfort that we forget others.

The Gospel from Luke which is given to us today repeats these admonitions but also adds that even if someone rises from the dead, people will not necessarily listen to him.  This is strong medicine because it tells us that even with our faith in the Lord Jesus, we can end up ignoring those in need.  Over and over in the New Testament, the Christian Scriptures, we are told that saying nice things is never enough.  Our faith in the Lord Jesus must result in actual service to the poor, to the needy, to those who mourn, to those who lack clothes or food or any kind of care.

Not only are we told to love and serve others, we are even told to go to the extremes at times and give more than is asked of us.  Loving and serving others must become a way of life for us, not something that we do when we have extra time!  We are invited to learn how to follow Jesus!  There is no way by which we can ever say:  I did what He asked of me and that is enough.  No, instead, we are invited to form a living relationship with God, a relationship that is ongoing, personal and loving at every moment of our lives.  Our life must become a response to HIM.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

Monastery of Christ in the Desert



Commentary for September 25, 2016 — From Living Space

Commentary on Amos 6:1a,4-7, 1Timothy 6:11-16 and Luke 16:19-31

TO SOME PEOPLE the story in today’s Gospel may seem quite unfair. A successful man, indicated by the prosperity of his surroundings, is buried in hell. A snivelling beggar, who may have never done a day’s work in his life, ends up in Abraham’s bosom. Is this Christian teaching?

To understand this story properly may involve a radical change in the way we – and the society we belong to – normally thinks. And, importantly for those who wish to be truly Christian, it will involve learning some of the values of Jesus, of the Gospel.

We live in a world which praises achievement and has little time for failure. It starts right in kindergarten with the very first school report. We live in a society, which says people deserve everything they are able to work for and acquire. The materially successful (and in our society is there any other kind of success?) are sometimes heard to say that, if anyone else did what they did, they could be billionaires too. The emphasis is not on what people are but what they can do and on what they can acquire with what they do. How they get it or what the consequences may be for others is not regarded as of great importance.

Another distortion

For us Christians, often as deeply infected with these ideas as anyone, there is another distortion as well. Our way of living our faith can be very individualistic and self-centred. The emphasis is on personal salvation (“saving my soul”) and that is achieved by being a morally good person. Morally good means avoiding actions which are ethically wrong, such as, failing to worship God in the “official” way, committing violent actions against others, behaving in a sexually immoral way (we coyly use the word “impure”), stealing things from people, gossiping maliciously about others, being jealous, envious, angry, resentful… and so on. Seldom in confession do people say: “I was not a loving person” but that they broke rules and disappointed themselves. Seldom do people confess the harm that their sins caused in others. I have never heard a person confess to cheating on taxes, although this is one of the chief ways in which people fail to express solidarity for the less well-off in their community.

As long as I am not aware of doing any of these things, or at least, not doing them in a serious way (“mortal sin”), then I am a “good” person and, if I am a Catholic, then I am “quite a good” Catholic (no need to exaggerate!).

However, this is not really the picture that the Gospel today describes. If we were to base our judgements on the above image of the “good Catholic”, then there was really nothing much wrong with the rich man. All he did was to enjoy his wealth and his good food, his big house, his fashionable and expensive clothes. He did not seem to do any harm to the poor man. He did not drive him away or use abusive language towards him. The rich man was, in fact, quite “charitable”. The poor man was welcome to any of the (surplus) food that fell from the table.

The rich man (and some of us) might ask why the poor man did not just get up and see a doctor about those ulcers on his leg and then go and do a proper day’s work. We have no idea how the rich man became rich. Perhaps he was born into a rich family and inherited his wealth; perhaps it was the result of working long hours over many years. Why should such a man be punished? And, even more strangely, why should the beggar be rewarded?

Why love the poor

Someone has said that God loves the poor, not because they are good, but simply because they are poor, where “poor” means deprived of what is necessary to live a fully human life.

Can we say also that God does not love the rich, not because they are bad, but simply because they are rich? Does one hear cries of “Unfair!”? “What’s wrong with being rich? Everyone wants to be rich and prosperous.” “Just look at the numbers buying lottery tickets every week!” “The rich are people too; they have souls.” “I thought God loves everyone without exception.” And so on.

But is it so unfair? Who is really being unfair? What does “rich” really mean? Indeed that rich man in the parable may have worked very hard to get his money, perhaps he was a good family man who loved his wife and was a good father to his children. Perhaps he went faithfully to the synagogue every Sabbath and observed all the regulations of the Sabbath day. He may have been seen as a very pillar of his community. Yet…as long as that poor man lay uncared for at his feet, the rich man was totally condemned.

Because he did not know what justice means. He did not know what love means. He did not know what a truly human society means. He did not know what religion means.

And perhaps there are thousands of us just like him in the Catholic Church here and all over the world.

Of course, one may say to oneself: “Jesus is not talking about me. I could not be regarded as rich. I am just a tax-paying fixed salary earner.” No, but is such a person looking anxiously to move in the direction of wealth? Does such a person dream of striking it big on the national lottery? Does one dream of finding a short cut to making a killing on the stock exchange some day?

Relativity of wealth

As an individual in our society, I may not (yet) be regarded as rich and we all belong to a society which is regarded as rather prosperous today. But, like most other rich communities, we are living in a society where wealth is very unevenly divided. There are many social problems in our midst affecting both rich and poor. Every social problem is a form of deprivation, a denial of full human living and hence poverty in Gospel terms.

How aware am I of these problems? How aware am I that I am somehow responsible for their elimination? What, in practice, am I contributing to the removal of these problems? Being a personally “good Catholic” is hardly enough.

Again, a lot of our community’s wealth comes from buying and selling to countries of the Third or developing world, where millions continue to live in poverty. Would we dare to say that there is no exploitation going on in our trading practices – perhaps by the very company I work for or companies whose goods I buy? How come our society continues to grow in prosperity while theirs gets deeper and deeper in debt? Is it really only a question of mismanagement and “laziness” on their part?

The rich countries of the North (which include some Asian countries and Australia-New Zealand) sit at their groaning table in purple and silk with champagne and caviar, while the poor of Asia and Africa and Latin America, covered in the wounds of deprivation and exploitation, are shut out. We constantly pat ourselves on the back and look forward to the day when our material standard of living surpasses that of Switzerland or Luxembourg. Is that what we really want to aim at?

Excuses too late

The rich man made the excuse (when it was too late) that he did not realise what was going on. His brothers (also rich?) did not realise either. Let them be warned, he pleaded. Even in hell, the rich man could still only think of his own family and not of all the others to whom he was responsible.

It would be no use warning them, Jesus said. They would not listen every if someone rose from the dead. Ironic words indeed. Jesus has risen from the dead this 2,000 years and how many of us have taken in the message of the Gospel about wealth and poverty? Not a great many, it must be said.

The table with food

One final point. Central to the story is the table laden with food. This is both the symbol of the Kingdom and also points to our Eucharistic table, which we dare to approach every Sunday. If we saw our Sunday Mass in terms of today’s Gospel, we might be more hesitant. We might be less smug about sharing the food of the Lord’s table – even every day.

The rich man made no move whatever to share what he had at the table. He could have done so at either of two levels. First, he could have seen to it that the poor man had enough to eat and he might even have gone further and “donated” medical treatment. This is the level of “charity”, the level most of us feel good about doing. But it is not yet the Gospel.

In the second level, neither of the men can be regarded as rich or poor. They sit down together at the same table and they give and receive and share on a footing of equal dignity the meal and the food. It is quite irrelevant whether one of them is more intelligent, more active, more enterprising, more healthy. What is important is that each cares deeply for the other and sees that the needs of each are taken care of with the resources available. Strangely enough, the poor are usually much better at that than the rich. Which makes one wonder, who in the world are the really rich, enriched and enriching?





Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
25 SEPTEMBER 2016, 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  Amos 6:1.4-7; Ps 145:6-10; 1 Tim 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31  ]

We have so many problems, at home, at work and in our personal life.  Some of us are sick and some of us have to deal with difficult people at work and at home.   Others feel overwhelmed with life.  Although some of us are rich and well off, we are also not happy.  Those of us who are retired should be the happiest people on this earth, but are they happy too?  So we lament all day and for many reasons.

What is the real reason for exaggerating our problems?  It is the sin of affluence. Why do we count our woes instead of our blessings?   What stands out in today’s scripture readings is the sin of insensitivity and indifference.  Indeed, in the gospel, the rich man did not do any wrong.  He committed no evil.  He was simply enjoying himself and indulging in a luxurious life.  Nothing is mentioned of whether his riches were ill-gotten, but simply that he dressed well, lived well and feasted “magnificently every day.”  So too the prophet Amos similarly charged the rich in his time.  They were also living a lavish and comfortable life; feasting and drinking, and enjoying themselves.  But both shared a common sin, they were indifferent to the plight of the poor and the happenings around them.

Insensitivity is the sin of the rich and the affluent.  Most of us are oblivious to the sufferings of humanity.  We live in our own little world, enjoying ourselves, living a comfortable life, having all that we want.  But we do not go beyond our world to the larger world where so many are suffering from poverty, hunger, malnutrition, illness, disease, lack of proper accommodation and unemployment.  Some are worse; they suffer from injustice, oppression, manipulation and discrimination.

Of course, there are others who are not simply oblivious but they choose to be indifferent to the predicament of the poor and the migrants.  We do not want to know or to see that there are people struggling to make ends meet and eking out a living for the day. In many countries, we see the poor abandoned and the sick simply lying on the streets without any assistance.  They are simply ignored.  Even in Singapore, if we open our eyes wide enough, we see the poor suffering in our backyard.  Perhaps they are not as destitute as those in other countries, but they are certainly deprived of proper food and housing, particularly the abandoned elderly and the disadvantaged.  There are also many migrants in Singapore who have been cheated of promised jobs and money.  Some ended up being forced into engaging in immoral activities.

What are the consequences when we are oblivious or indifferent to the sufferings of the poor?  The scripture readings warn us that “they will be the first to be exiled.”  To be exiled means that we are alienated from ourselves and our loved ones.  We lose our humanity.  “But that is not all: between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, to stop anyone, if he wanted to, crossing from our side to yours, and to stop any crossing from your side to ours.”  We are called to love and to feel with others.  This is what com-passion means and what makes us human.

When we can no longer identify with our fellowmen, we lose the capacity to be human.  Sometimes, when we reflect on the cruelty of man towards their fellowmen, whether in the battlefields, at concentration camps or in the daily abuses that take place in our homes and on our streets, these perpetrators have lost touch with their humanity.  How else can we explain how people could be so cruel and heartless towards their fellowmen?  The principle of life is that we do not do unto others what we do not like them to do unto us.  But when we do not know what it means to be human anymore, then we become brutally cruel to others.

Secondly, we lose our spirit because we have reduced ourselves to the level of animals.  When all we care about is eating, enjoying and sleeping, life becomes meaningless.  When we live sensually, we are no better than animals.  When life is reduced to this level, we starve our spirit, which yearns for meaning, purpose, love and giving.   There are some people who just waste their life away by doing all the things that do not give life.  We can never become fully alive if we just live on this level.  Meaning is found only when we live for others, when we learn how to care for others.  This is the only way to live.  Those who live passionately are always those who live for the world, regardless of who we are.  By living for others, we live even more fully.  Those whose life lack passion are those who idle their time away, watching TV all day, eating and doing the mundane things, and just gossip and gossip.

Thirdly, we become ungrateful for the blessings we receive.  When we are oblivious to how others are suffering, we begin to take for granted what we have and the comforts we are blessed with.  Instead of being grateful for God’s blessings and using them well, we complain all the time that we do not have this and that.  Because we only seek to satisfy our craving for things and pleasure, we are never satisfied.  It is only when we know and see how little others have and yet are so joyful and happy in life that we begin to wonder what is missing in our lives.  Indeed, when you visit the people in the poorer countries, you see that they may be poor, but they are always so happy and grateful for the little things in life.   The most difficult people to please are the rich.

So if we want to find happiness in life, we must come to the Lord.  He is found in the poor.  It is significant that the rich man was without a name.  But the poor man had a name – Lazarus.  He was truly a man.  He knew how to be a man because he could feel and knew that he depended on God alone. God recognized the poor man but for those who are rich and live for themselves, He will not be able to recognize, as we have read in the Last Judgement story when the Lord would say, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.”  (Mt 25:45)  The rich who cannot feel and cannot love are truly poor. 

The irony of today’s gospel is that the rich asked the poor man for help; not the other way around!   It is significant that the rich man who suffered the consequences of alienation, separation and most of all the emptiness of life symbolized by the fires of hell, sought help for his brothers by pleading with Abraham to send Lazarus to warn them.  But the reply of Abraham was this,If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.”  Although the evangelist was alluding to Christ’s resurrection, the point remains that without a personal encounter with the Risen Lord or the poor and the suffering, we will not be converted.

If we do not see, we would not believe, hence, even if someone were to come “from the dead, they will not repent.”   So if we wish to avoid becoming oblivious and indifferent to the sufferings and struggles of the poor, then we must be personally in touch with them.  We must go out of our comfort zones to be with them so that we can appreciate what we have, be thankful for God’s blessings and in turn become generous and willing to share what we have with those who are less privileged than us.

Those of us who have gone on mercy trips have returned materially poorer but our hearts are richer.  Many are philanthropists simply because they have felt the sufferings of the poor and the marginalized.  In giving, they received tremendous joy and satisfaction that no pleasure on earth can buy.  When we reach out to the poor, we are enriched and feel more human as well.  We grow in the capacity to love and be compassionate.  When we are one with our fellowmen, life becomes more meaningful.  To share the joys and pains of our fellowmen is what gives us meaning in life.  The poor and the suffering help us to be in touch with our own pains and struggles.  We come to appreciate our blessings and not always think of our woes and sufferings.  Many others suffer more than us even if our sufferings are not identical.  Still, they are sufferings and crosses of life.

Today, we must reach out to the poor if we are to be truly rich in life and love. We must become more aware, not just intellectually but be in personal contact with such people, the sick, the prisoners, the migrants, the poor and the lonely so that we can truly feel with them in their struggles and pains.  As we hear their stories, their aspirations, woes and afflictions, our hearts will be softened and we will come to be grateful to God for our blessings and be generous with our sharing as well.  

In this way, we get in touch with the heart of God and become one with God.  The psalmist says, “It is the Lord who keeps faith forever, who is just to those who are oppressed. It is he who gives bread to the hungry, the Lord, who sets prisoners free. It is the Lord who gives sight to the blind, who raises up those who are bowed down, the Lord, who protects the stranger and upholds the widow and orphan.”

Finally, St Paul urges us to be true witnesses of Christ.   Let us live our life in such a way that we have a clear conscience before God and man.  We must do all we can according to the capacity that God has graced us in His love so that we can appear at the end of time, before our Lord, “with no faults or failures.”   Only then will we not fall into the same tragedy of the rich man.


Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore


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