This past Sunday Father Francisco Nahoe led the 9:30 A.M. Mass for the Second Sunday of Advent at our Cathedral in Reno Nevada. Father asked us for this start of the new Liturgical year, Another year older, and what do you see. Father Francisco’s taking off point was the Gospel reading, the preaching of John the Baptist. What the world needs is more John’s, as a homilist of some thirty years ago noted. No, we do not need more itinerant ministers teaching us about how bad we are and how we need to turn our lives around, and follow a particular way, or else. We need more johns. We need more of those little rooms that remind us that no matter how good we think we are, and no matter how much we think we are God’s gift to humanity, we are all simply faulty human beings with limited grasp of the perception of true reality.
Father Nahoe began his discussion with his discussion of Lazarus, whose name in Hebrew means “The Helper of God.” In Luke 16:19-31 Lazarus is the poor man with the wounds that only the dogs will lick, most certainly Lazarus will not receive the attention of the rich man, he is too busy playing the role of Scrooge, and seeing value only in his money. When Lazarus and the rich man die, the rich man shows that he still does not get it. Rather than seeing Lazarus worthy of heaven and himself not so worthy, he sees Lazarus as only a servant for Abraham to send to his family to save them.
Abraham tells the rich man that his family has Torah, and Prophets. What is in these writings? Deuteronomy 30:11-20 states:
This Mitzvoth…, is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven…’ The word is very near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart,… I set before you, this day, life and what is satisfying, and death and rot, to love the Personal Name your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His Mitzvoth and His customs and His correct judicial precedents, live and multiply.
Living and multiplying, as individuals and as a community in Reno Nevada, is what God requires and that we live in peace, one with another in Washoe County.
This is what the rich man lacked in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. He did not strive to create community, with Lazarus in it. He did not strive to make peace with the people on Montello Avenue in Sparks, and Neil Road in Reno, or in our inner cities. He did not strive to create life; life lived in its fullest for every man created in the image and likeness of God. He did not strive to create the good, what is satisfying, for Lazarus, and he did not strive to remove rot, the sores of Lazarus. Do we? If not, we face the fate of the rich man in the story.
Our second reading for the second Sunday of Advent discussed the idea that something more is required than just purity that comes from confession. It reads:
What sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in purity and with religious awe, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God… according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which charity dwells. Therefore, beloved, you await these things, be eager to be without spot or blemish before him, at peace.
The first key words are “Purity” and “With religious awe.” When we think of purity, we think of Luke’s story of the man with the impure spirit. The impure spirit leaves and not finding a place to stay, it returns with seven more, worse than himself. Something more is required than being pure. This is the Greek Eusebia, from σέβομαι, which means having a good sense of awe.
As Catholics, we receive this spirit of awe through the Eucharist. The Jewish community receives it through remembering their rescue from Egypt. The Hebrew word for Egypt means oppression. Catholic and Jewish communities receive this sense of religious awe by remember our rescue from ourselves and from whatever oppresses us, our Egypt. We develop a sense of Gratitude, the root word of which is grace. In our Mass, we start with purification, but do not end there. We must be pure, and have this sense of gratitude, grace that propels us forward. If we do not, the demons return and we are seven times worse than when we started.
Abraham also tells the rich man, if his relatives do not believe the Torah and the Prophets, they will not believe if a man/Lazarus rises from the dead. In the Gospel of John, Lazarus, the helper of God, does rise from the grave, John 11:44. Instead of seeing a man rise from the grave, the Taanaic Rabbis of the first century, in their legalism, see a threat to their way of life.
What of us? When we attend Mass, do we see a small piece of bread and some wine? Do we see the blood turned into bread and wine? That makes us pure. Do we see Jesus Christ and all he represents, the Semitic Jew, Son of God, only Begotten Son of our Blessed Virgin, born into poverty, set into a feeding trough, with no place to set his head? Do we see the Man and Son of God anointed by God to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free? If we do, our religious awe sends us out into the world to make the world a better place for all. People will know us by our works. Father ended his homily by asking, “What do we choose to see?”