By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Sunday 25 September, 2016
St Ninians & St Chads Church, Maylands
Sometimes a phrase finds its way into common usage but in the process, is misquoted and in consequence its meaning is totally changed. The phrase ‘money is the root of all evil’, is a misquote from the epistle to Timothy which says, ‘the love of money is the root of all evil.’ Very different.
In today’s epistle reading, the author is dealing with the issues of wealth in a Christian community. This community appears to be stable with developed ministry roles and expectations about how bishops and deacons should live and behave. This community seems to have organised itself in order to live the Christian faith over a long, rather than a short, period.
Some members of the community are much wealthier than others and this seems to be causing problems. In the secular world of the first and second centuries, the rich and the poor did not mix in everyday life. But in the Christian community they did. Even so, the wealthy considered themselves to be more ‘blessed’ than the poor, and that way of thinking is more Jewish than Christian.
Even today, some Christian preachers attract vast congregations because they preach the message that God wants them to be rich, healthy and have perfect relationships. All that is needed is faith and to generously support the church.
In the epistle to Timothy, the wealthy are not asked to give up what they have, but to consider themselves to be stewards, not possessors of their wealth. When people are possessive about money, goods or even people, these things become worshipped as a false god and almost certainly led to disaster.
The point the epistle is making, is that we are stewards of our wealth, not possessors of it, and how we exercise that stewardship matters, including the support of our own faith community and the Ordinariate, the community of communities.
St Teresa of Avila said, “Our Lord asks two things of us: love for him and for our neighbour. I think the most certain sign we keep these two commandments is that we have a genuine love for others. We cannot know whether we love God although there may be strong reasons for doing so, but there can be no doubt about whether we love our neighbour or not.” Interior Castle
Wealth and status in the Church are not related. The love of God and others are. It is a pity that the rich man in today’s gospel reading did not know St Teresa.
At first reading, the story of Dives and Lazarus seems to be about rewards and punishments, but the rich man doesn’t find himself in torment because of his wealth but because of his self-centredness. For him, Lazarus was invisible. He was a non-person who was a festering sore desecrating his front gate.
Even in torment, Dives doesn’t repent of his attitude to Lazarus. He still wants him to be his lackey and come and cool his tongue with water. When that request is refused, he asks that Lazarus go and tell Dives’ brothers to mend their ways in case they end up like him.
That request is refused as well. People are responsible for their own choices and the consequences of those choices. Dives was told that his brothers have Moses and the prophets as guides. If they take no notice of them they would take no notice even if someone rose from the dead, which is clearly a teaching point about Our Lord’s resurrection.
Even the prophet Amos issues a chilling reminder in our first reading that God’s wrath would fall on the idle rich who had replaced the love of God by the love of money and ignored the need of others.
Salvation comes to us by faith, and faith is trusting God to the extent of submitting our own will and desires to his will, especially when we are not sure what that will is.
Jesus told this parable to those Pharisees who he accused of paying more attention to external things like status, wealth, legalism and excluding those who fell short of almost impossible standards than on exercising love, forgiveness and mercy and leading those who fall short of God’s ideal to change their ways and return to loving him.
In this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis does not ask us to abandon, change or weaken the Church’s teaching in order to make life easier for people. That is not the answer because once that process begins it goes on until there is no teaching left. Dives’ brothers would have taken no notice of Lazarus’ ghost had he appeared to them.
What we are asked to do is preach the gospel of love and mercy and assist those who reject or do not understand why the Church teaches what it does to understand it and hopefully come to accept it. Pope Francis is pleading for a pastoral approach enabling people to make the journey back to the Faith rather than excluding them because of legalism.
We cannot force people to be Christians. We cannot force people to become Catholic through the Ordinariate. What we can do is to be so faithful, worshipful and obedient to God that people are drawn to him, not so much because of what we say, but because of whom we are.
It is not what we possess that matters in God’s Kingdom, but who we are and how we live.