30 Sep 2007
“‘Abraham replied, “My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here ...”’” (Lk. 16:25) (+)
I don’t know if any of you got drawn into that Ken Burns documentary series on World War II this past week. It played for at least a couple of hours on PBS from Sunday night through Wed., and then it resumes again this week. I’m glad they broke-up the seven-part series because for one, there wouldn’t have been a sermon today. I watched a lot of television last week because of that program instead of doing the things I should have been doing. And two, it was emotionally draining to watch what those men and women in combat endured, and how the war affected families and communities back home. They showed a picture of one mother who had lost three sons in the war, and how the War Department took her fourth and last son out of the service so that at least one of her boys would survive. And they mentioned how another mother wrote to her son saying “Just be careful.” The soldier wrote back, “It’s not about being careful. It’s about being lucky.”
Then they went to footage of the D-Day invasion of France. They showed actual film of the landing. You could watch at any one moment and see five or ten guys running forward on the beach, and then as you were watching you would see this one guy or another guy fall, hit by enemy fire. The question had to cross your mind: Why him as opposed to the guy next to him? And after these guys had seen the randomness of death repeated a thousand times over, it’s not hard to understand why one soldier would write back to his mother: “It’s not about being careful. It’s about being lucky.”
Lucky may be fine when you’re playing the lottery, but it seems so inadequate when talking about the value of a person’s life. Life, the only one we get, seems far too important to be defined by lucky or unlucky. We started a wonderfully interesting discussion in our Adult Discussion Group a couple of weeks back and I’m looking forward to getting back into it when I have a free Sunday morning after Mass. We were talking about whether or not God knows everything about our future. Did God, for example, know from the moment of his great grandfather’s conception that the anonymous soldier I saw die on Omaha Beach back in 1944 was going to be shot by the one particular Nazi soldier whom God knew would be there since his great grandfather’s conception? Did He know that he would be shot dead with that one particular bullet that was produced along with literally hundreds of millions of other bullets at some German factory?
Or has God chosen to create a world in which the future is not fully defined until we make our own choices? And if human choice is involved, not only the choices we think about but the whole of creation that allows for the possibility and the unpredictability of real choice itself, then lucky and unlucky do work their way into the discussion. This is often times unsatisfactory; this can often leave us aching for something more when we or someone we love ends up affected by the randomness of life. But at the same time, does it mean that God is weak or uninterested?
I’d like to take a shot at the question of the fickleness of so much of human life from the perspective of today’s Gospel. I don’t talk too much in sermons about the afterlife because I don’t know too much about the afterlife. I believe that heaven is coming into the presence of Jesus; I trust Jesus; and I leave it in His hands. What I prefer to speak about is Christ in this world. But to appreciate the impact of today’s parable, we have to consider what Jesus is saying about life after death. Lazarus represents all who suffer unfairly in this world. Think about him representing the soldier I watched die on Omaha Beach while the ones right next to him continue forward. Think about the child on the St. Jude’s bulletin board in our parish hall who suffers from cancer. Whether it be by human involvement or an unfortunate fluke of nature, all of these “unlucky” cases are combined in the person of Lazarus.
Jesus’ message to us through today’s parable is that Lazarus’ life was miserable, but that it is only one part of Lazarus’ life. Jesus is telling us that life is haphazard, some will be lucky, others terribly unfortunate, but that doesn’t mean God is uncaring or disinterested. The randomness of what can happen to people is troubling, but we need to trust, says Jesus to us today, that we only see part of the picture. Fr. Joe and family went to Fenway on Friday night. They saw the Red Sox win and they stuck around to see if the Yankees would lose and the Red Sox win their division. Fr. Joe is a huge fan. They make their way over to the dug out area. They’re watching the Yankees through the 8th inning of their game in Baltimore on the large screen. The Yankees are up by 3 runs, their closer Rivera is coming in, and Fr. Joe convinces his family to leave. They’re on the turnpike when they hear about the amazing come back and victory over the Yankees. They hear on the turnpike about the celebration at Fenway they could have been a part of. His son Andrew would not talk to his father all day yesterday. Fr. Joe sounded absolutely miserable when he told me the story yesterday. The moral of the story is that we need to see the whole picture before we make our judgment.
We don’t see what God has in store for us in heaven. We don’t see how Jesus even walks with us unseen right now. All we see is part of the picture. What Jesus asks of us as people of faith is to realize that life can be random because God allows us the privilege of choice, but that at no point even in a confusing world does God not care about us. That’s the message of Lazarus. And so, we are asked to believe in the unseen and the “not yet” when we see all of the senselessness of our world. We are asked to trust in God even when the urge to blame God is so strong. May Jesus’ words help us through life’s confusion with the assurance that God is with us. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen
Fr. Randy Calvo