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Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
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26th Sunday in ordinary time

Father Karl Esker, C.Ss.R.

Welcome to the Good Word, a reflection on the readings of the daily liturgy. I am Father Karl Esker, a Redemptorist priest.

Today’s readings challenge us to look beyond our personal well-being and take responsibility for the well-being of others and even of the world itself. The question is not a new one,= because it goes back to Cain and Abel. When the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel,” Cain replied, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Since God punished Cain so severely, we can assume that the answer was an emphatic “Yes.” Our readings today expand the idea of the brother of whom I am the keeper.

In the Gospel Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and the poor man called Lazarus. The rich man enjoyed life to the full and just could not be bothered by the poor man lying outside his door. He knew his name but never said a word to him, asked him how he was doing, or offered him anything. The reversal of fortune comes when they both die. Lazarus finds himself in God’s kingdom together with Abraham, and the rich man finds himself in a place of torment. But the rich man still has not caught on. He sees Abraham in God’s kingdom with Lazarus and cries out, not to Lazarus, but to Abraham to send Lazarus to him as his personal slave. Abraham replies that in life the rich man created so much distance between himself and Lazarus, that now the distance is insurmountable and he finds himself cut off from Abraham and the people of God.

In the first reading, the prophet Amos had already broadened the horizon of responsibility and railed against the nobles of Jerusalem, who sang and partied while the northern tribes of Israel were carted off into slavery by their conquerors. The day would come when they too would suffer the same fate. And so they did.

The question is not so much God’s punishment on those who ignore the needs of others but the distance we place between ourselves and others and ourselves and God. Jesus, the Son of God, became man, died on the cross, and rose from the dead to redeem not just a select few but all. So if we truly live in Jesus Christ, we have no right to close ourselves away in our comfort zones, be it house or neighborhood, when we see the lives of individuals, families, or whole peoples being crushed for political gain or when we see regions or the whole environment being threatened for economic gain. We are our brother’s keeper.

We will not always know how to respond, but through prayer and meditation on the word of God, we will find the way to be faithful to the noble profession of faith we made at baptism and again at confirmation, as St. Paul reminds Timothy in the second reading. That is why in the parable Abraham could not send Lazarus to warn the rich man’s brothers–because if we are not open to the word of God, we will continue to distance ourselves from the needy of this world and certainly will not be open to hear the call of Jesus risen from the dead.

I pray that we never close ourselves to the faith and hope that bring us closer in love of God and neighbor. May God bless you.

Fr. Karl Esker CSsR