The Virtue of Christian Responsibility

This weekend’s Gospel (26th Week in Ordinary Time) about Lazarus, and a rich man by the name of Dives, is filled with very concrete images about the virtue of Christian responsibility.

Jesus’ message is twofold: first, He is saying that during his earthly life the rich man was not applying the teaching of the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures which speak of the obligation to hospitably help those around us.

Jesus is also challenging us by mentioning that the rich man sinned. In the Hebrew language the word sin means to “miss the mark” and the rich man Dives clearly missed the mark.

diveslazarusdrawn by an unknown illustrator of petrus comestar's biblehistorialecrop

Father Ron Rolheiser tells us that the Hebrew Scriptures are filled with the concept that giving to the poor was never a negotiable moral option. Rather “it was an obligation” which stated  “giving a certain amount to the poor” in your community was “prescribed by law.”

For example, in the book of Leviticus (25:23) Moses clearly states that nothing is really ours because everything belongs to God. “We are only its stewards and guardians.” We may enjoy it because we worked for it, but with the understanding that our enjoyment is possible because God Himself allows us to earn and take pleasure from it, yet, everything ultimately belongs to God.

How does this apply to us?

The answer brings us to the second part – the silent challenge within Jesus’ parable. Missing the mark, that is, sin, is a deliberate human act that denies or defies the teachings of God. Ultimately, it is an act of narcissism – an act of self-absorption – an act of self-will that puts “the almighty me” first, and the laws of God and His Church, second.

Jesus challenges us to examine how we put our trust in other things: pleasure, pride, power, or possessions – to the neglect of God. What did Dives – the rich man – trust? From the parable we see that he trusted in his wealth. Now, there is nothing wrong with wealth; wealth, however, can become a problem – and lead to sinful behavior – when we as its stewards fulfill only our own needs to the detriment of those suffering around us.

The rich man committed a sin of omission in that he failed to help a needy person that was right in front of him; so the rich man’s wealth, which in itself was morally neutral, enabled him to make the decision to become gluttonous, avaricious, and selfish. This leads us to understand that the root of all sin is pride and the inability to consistently act with humility before the Lord.

Jesus’ challenge in this story is extremely applicable, for we need to determine whether we are going through our lives committing sinful acts with little regard for the consequences of our behavior. When this happens – we – like Dives – miss the mark, and ultimately, we will go unfulfilled in this life, and like him, unfulfilled in the next so, what must we do?

Well, if Dives – the rich man – trusted in his wealth, Lazarus – the poor man – trusted in God. In fact, the name Lazarus means God is my help. Despite a life of misfortune and suffering, Lazarus, in humility, did not lose hope in God.

Like Lazarus we must rediscover, or discover for the first time, the joy and freedom of completely trusting in God.

And what does this mean?

It means that the virtue of Christian responsibility demands that  we perform our work, worship God alone, and acknowledge that He is our only lasting treasure. By doing that we will escape the deadly trap that befell the rich man – for when we love God with all our heart we never forget to help those in need.

Let our prayer be: Lord, increase my thirst for You and for Your way of happiness. Give me a generous heart so I may responsibly share with others the wealth you have given to me.

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved The above is a homily that was delivered by Deacon Paul O. Iacono on the weekend of September 28/29, 2013 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Wakefield, Rhode Island USA. Notes on the painting: The painting above is an illustration drawn by an anonymous illustrator for the Petrus Comestar (Peter Comestor) Commentaries on the Gospels. Peter Comestor, a French priest and scholar, died in Paris in 1178. He was considered one of the three most learned men in France during his lifetime.

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