What would you do? is a documentary, hidden camera, reality show that airs periodically on ABC since 2008. The show presents different scenarios and monitors how people react or respond to different issues, like – An older man needing to fill a prescription at a pharmacy, but doesn’t have enough money to pay for it… Some teenagers beating up a homeless person in front of passers-by… A waitress is sexually harassed by her boss in front of customers… The host asks what would you do if you were in that scenario as they roll film to show various reactions and responses. Part of the show’s popularity is that it highlights the “empathy crisis” we hear about that our nation (or maybe better said, our world) is facing. Empathy is the ability to understand what someone else is feeling, to put ourselves in another person’s shoes – and then be motivated to do something about it. The program shows a wide range of reactions: There are heart-warming examples of a stranger running up and paying for a person’s prescription. There are sad examples of a homeless person being beaten up and no one doing anything. There are the awkward and uncomfortable reactions people have watching the boss demean, being rude and obnoxious to the waitress.
Thanks so much for stopping by to read my homily for the 26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – September 25, 2022, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments… I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing Sincerely in Christ – Father Jim
A man not too long ago shared some real-life examples, without the TV cameras or editing – just his heartfelt posting online. He talked about how he’s just had an awful run of bad luck with his car. One time he had a fuse in his car burn out, another time he ran out of gas, and then he had a tire blow out on him – and each time, he found himself on the shoulder of busy highways. He recounted how all of these situations were stressful, tense, and annoying to begin with – but what made them worse was how no one seemed to help him. He describes the experience: I spent hours on the side of the freeway waiting, watching roadside assistance vehicles blow past me, for AAA to show. The 4 gas stations I asked for a gas can at told me that they couldn’t loan them out “for my safety” but I could buy a really cruddy one with no cap for $15.
Empathy -or more simply – caring about someone else has always been a choice… and human beings since the Garden of Eden have always been gifted with free will. It’s interesting in all of those different scenarios the question isn’t what should you do… This implies that we know deep in our hearts and souls the answer to that question. Rather, the question is What would you do – recognizing that it’s a free will choice we have to make? To care – or not about someone in need.
So often this Gospel we just heard has been used (or misused) as an opportunity to malign wealth… portraying Jesus as a type of pre-cursor to Robin Hood advocating taking from the rich and giving to the poor with the Christian spin of – if you don’t, then you’re going to hell. It’s troubling to hear that, especially when politicians use Jesus for some class-warfare talking point advancing their own agendas. Because that’s not what Jesus is doing at all. We can’t lose sight of the fact that Jesus has come to save all humanity – the rich and the poor. He’s not in the business of picking favorites – He desires the salvation of the world. His warnings about wealth and material riches aren’t because they are bad in and of themselves. They go along with His warning us that anything that distracts us from the love of God is front and center in our lives… Anything that undermines our obeying the greatest commandment to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our being – and our neighbor as ourselves needs to be avoided. Jesus wants all humanity to respond to that command because He loves all humanity. Including the Pharisees who were the first group, he addresses in this story. But we have to back up a bit.
The last few weeks at Sunday Mass, we have been hearing one long teaching of Jesus being given to a crowd. In that crowd, He’s got his disciples and followers there – the ones who are already committed to Him. He’s got those who’ve heard about Him coming around and wanting to see what all the fuss is about. And then He’s got the Pharisees, the religious elite of the day who are beyond critical of Jesus. They’ve been unmoved by what he’s shared with them. Just a refresher: – First it was the story of the shepherd finding the lost sheep, the woman finding the lost coin, and then what’s been commonly referred to as “the prodigal son” (but I prefer “the Loving Father”) – which we heard at Mass 2 weeks ago… Followed by the parable of the steward with dishonest wealth, which we heard last week. That’s where we pick up today’s Gospel. Right before this passage though, there was a small – but really important incident that the lectionary skips before we get to Jesus telling this story about a dead man named Lazarus. In that skipped portion, the Gospel says that “the Pharisees who loved money heard all of this laughed at [Jesus].” (Luke 16:14)
Imagine that – they laughed at Jesus. They laughed at Jesus’ revelation of who God is, this loving, merciful father who never stops thinking about any of His Children any of us – even the most lost, wayward of us… They laughed at Jesus’ telling them that the blessings of wealth, health, and power aren’t signs aren’t ways of showing how great and wonderful we are in God’s eyes… but rather it’s in what we do with those, how we live as God’s own children that will determine that. The Pharisees laughed at these things. Why? Because the Pharisees were rich and powerful- they knew it all – they “got” religion… (Who’s this Jesus telling us who God is? How dare he tell us that we need to take these blessings which tell us God loves us and help those who God has cursed – that’s why we’re rich and they’re poor).
So Jesus’ isn’t warning them (or us) about wealth – but rather warning against this false image of God and His blessings… warning against arrogance… warning against self-absorption and warning against lack of care for others…He’s pointing that out by illustrating this rich man who died was so attached to his riches, so blinded by them, and embarked on a lifelong relentless pursuit for them, even at the expense of everyone around him. Lazarus –who was materially poor and suffering didn’t even cross this guy’s mind as he passed him on the front stoop every day. That’s what’s so jarring – the poor man isn’t some nameless, anonymous individual. The rich guy (interestingly who does remain nameless) knows the poor guy’s name — LAZARUS. And so even after he had ignored the opportunity to utilize the most precious gifts of wealth, health, and power to help the man at the door. After he had rejected the love of God which could have radically transformed his and Lazarus’ life and countless others around him… after all that, he’s wondering why there’s this abyss and chasm between him and God. He doesn’t even recognize he’s created the abyss. Even then he remains self-centered… finally he acknowledges Lazarus by name, but only to ask Lazarus to now alleviate the torment he’s created for himself. By then, Jesus explains, it’s too late.
God’s love, His Mercy, and His desire for us to be with Him for all eternity never end. That’s who God is. So this isn’t meant to scare people into following Him by condemning all wealth, and possessions. But the message to the Pharisees is meant to ask us to reflect a bit deeper. With what we have, with the gifts and blessings and talents we possess – how are we responding to God’s love by noticing, being attentive, and going out of our way to help others?
That guy who had a terrible streak of luck with his car shared an incident that completely changed his perspective on things after being left on the side of the road without gas and with blown fuses. When his tire had blown out, he said he was on the side of a road for nearly four hours. He had a spare tire but no jack and so he had put a sign on his car saying “NEED A JACK” – even put an offer for money. Another man who was with his family in a van, who didn’t even speak English, stopped and through his daughter working as a translator explained that he had a jack, but it was probably too small for the broken down Jeep, but not too worry – this guy went into his van, grabbed a saw from his toolbox and cut a branch from the side of the road to brace the jack. The man whose tire was blown is so excited he starts to remove the tire and breaks the helpful stranger’s tire iron. The helpful stranger doesn’t get upset or angry, but runs to his van and asks his wife to drive to the store and buy a new one, which she does, returning in 15 minutes and finally able to get the tire switched. The guy is so thankful, so relieved that he had insisted on giving them some cash, which they had refused over and over again. He finally handed it to the wife who quietly accepted it. The wife, through the daughter, asks if he had eaten any lunch – when he says he hasn’t she reaches into their cooler and gives him some of their lunch, and they enjoy a quick bite to eat at the side of the road. As he was walking back to his car, he saw the money he had insisted on giving to the wife there on his front seat – so he ran back to the van and was pleading with them to take it. This selfless stranger smiles, and with great concentration spoke the only words he did in this entire exchange in English, saying: Today you… tomorrow me. The guy said he was blown away by a family who he described was undoubtedly poorer than he was and who had shown such generosity and compassion. The experience helped wipe away the negative ones and said that in the months that followed, he’s changed a couple of tires, gotten gas, and even driving someone 50 miles out of his way to an airport never forgetting what this generous family had done for him – with those words from the helpful stranger ringing in his heart and mind – today you…tomorrow me
The same should be true for us. Because this isn’t meant to be a fire and brimstone Gospel passage. Jesus has expressed in parables the unequaled, life-giving, amazing love of God for all humanity, and even more, in the gift of himself on the Cross, given to us in His Body and Blood in the Eucharist that we take and receive as we come forward at communion. We’re meant to rejoice in the great lengths God has gone to and continues to go to for each of us. Saying to us over and over how he never stops thinking of us, desires us, seeks us. When we think of a lonely neighbor, know of a struggling relative, or encounter a stranger with some need, great or small that we have been blessed to somehow alleviate – we know the answer to the question of what should you do in response. The question is What would you do?