Homily for August 2, 2009

Father Tom’s Homily
18th Sunday
August 2, 2009

Today’s gospel from 6th chapter of John is obviously a Eucharistic gospel. This is a reading that was intended to be a reflection for the early Church about the meaning of the Eucharist.
In this reading Jesus says to us: “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

As a commentary, I want to consider another gospel reading, the parable in Luke’s gospel about the poor man named Lazarus and the anonymous rich man.
It is certainly a lesson about greed and responding the needs of the poor. I believe it is also a reflection about the Eucharist, because it speaks of hunger and bread.

Jesus’ parables are full of surprising insights into the mysteries of the Kingdom, a kingdom that belongs to the poor in spirit, where the meek inherit the land and to save ones life we must lose it. A strange place where we may not want to go.
Parables are meant to help us see things from God’s point of view which is often very different from our own. The parable of Lazarus, the poor man, is meant to awaken us and probably leave us feeling uneasy.

Significant in this parable is what I will call “Lazarus’ gate.”
The gate in the story barred Lazarus from the rich man’s table, which was heavily laden with an abundance of rich foods, expensive wines and fine linen napkins.
Each day the rich man had such a lavish banquet, but he was a lonely man who dined in solitude.

It’s a story about hunger and bread. Lazarus was sick and hungry for crumbs of bread that he could see falling to the floor from the banquet table. Mr. Rich was so satisfied with his fine cuisine that he knew no hunger. He was fat and content but very alone.
Lazarus was hungry but he had company. His companions were alley dogs who came to sit at his side and lick his sores. Dog lovers will see this as a gospel parable about the compassion of dogs.

In this parable the gate where Lazarus lay is meant to represent the gate of Paradise, the place of the heavenly banquet.
To lock Lazarus’ gate is to lock the gate of Paradise also to ourselves, because the poor man has been sent to us to rescue us from our selfish inward-looking world and guide us to Paradise.
Paradise is not a sort of theme park of pleasures, but rather it is the only place where the deepest hunger of our human hearts can be satisfied.

The crumbs in the parable are a symbol of the Eucharist, the Bread of the poor.
In the realm of the spirit we are all poor. So we are Lazarus of the parable. The Eucharist is the Bread we spiritually hunger for.
But if life has given us great abundance, we are also Mr. Rich.
The parable asks us to decide who we want to be, the poor man or the rich man who ignores the poor.

The parable tells us that it would be wise to be in solidarity with Brother Lazarus, the poor man. Where is this poor man who hungers for bread? He is everywhere.

A recent official report tells us that there are over 800 million malnourished people who share life with us on earth today. The report also notes that 6 million children die each year as a result of hunger.

The poor man has been sent to us by God so that we may open the gate to receive him, but also to open the gate of Paradise to ourselves.
The poor man is the gate keeper of heaven. From this point of view, St. Peter may have the key to the gate, but Lazarus is the one who manages it. It is Brother Lazarus who will greet us at the gate to usher us to the banquet table of heaven.

Lazarus’ gate is close at hand. It is that place where we encounter the poor. Jesus’ parable instructs us to keep open the gate where we meet the poor.
Jesus’ story about bread and hunger also teaches us to be aware of our inner hunger for the Bread that nourishes our hearts.
Our hunger for the Bread and our solidarity with Lazarus belong together if we would celebrate the Eucharist in the spirit of Jesus’ parable. It is possible that we would understand our own hunger for the Eucharist while ignoring the hungry of the world.

James Guadalupe Carney was a Jesuit priest who lived in solidarity with the poor of Honduras and paid for it with his life because he was openly critical of the official disregard of the hungry poor.
He made his opinion public in the pulpit of his parish church in Yoro. Yoro was one of the regions of Honduras where the campesinos and workers were most exploited.

Father Carney noted that the big landowners who lived in Yoro controlled everything that happened in the region. They were managing a system of great injustice.
Yet they were outwardly religious, attending Mass and receiving Communion every Sunday.
Father Carney publicly noted, “Their religion of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament legitimized their lifestyle, soothed their consciences, and made them feel Christian with having to act Christian.”

What is this deep hunger we all have?
God has placed in every human heart a longing for companionship, especially the divine companion.
We have been created with a longing for intimacy with God, who is Love itself.
Jesus, the poor man, is the Bread that feeds our hungry hearts.