Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 25, 2016
I worked in downtown Detroit, Michigan, for over 20 years. Twice a day, year after year, I drove past a little green patch in the middle of Jefferson Avenue without paying any attention to the monument that stands there. Within view of the imposing sculpture of “The Spirit of Detroit” and the equally impressive and enormous “fist” of Joe Louis, the statue of Armenian cleric Gomidas Vartabed stands as a silent memorial to what is referred to as the Armenian Genocide.
Overshadowed by the tributes to civic pride, a sports hero, and completely surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the busy city, I venture to say that on any given day, few, if any, of the tens of thousands of people that pass by the statue even notice that it is there. What is more sobering is the fact that few, if any, of those passersby have any idea that between 1915 and 1923, 1.5 million Christian Armenians, living within the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, were systematically murdered. Another 1 million refugees fled their home and country, never to return.
Like many Detroiters, I passed by the monument without noticing it and was totally ignorant of the terrible crime against humanity that it memorializes. Simply put: This didn’t involve me! Not having personal ties to that part of the world, and not being taught about this atrocity in any history class, I remained ignorant of this grievous sin. Then, I happened on a brief report on the memorial services the Armenian community in Michigan organized to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the systematic effort to eliminate an entire population. There is obviously nothing I can do at this point…except remember.
But remembering is about the past, which we cannot change. Still, when we remember, we learn, and when we learn from our past mistakes, we can do something to avoid making those same mistakes.
Certainly, we remember that during World War II, 6 million Jews were murdered in German concentration camps, many more becoming refugees never to return to their homes. But, what we might not know is that, today, on this 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, as we hear and reflect on Luke 16:19-31, many Christians in the Middle East risk their lives to do what we are doing…celebrating Eucharist. Other Christians are gathering to break The Bread and to share The Cup, to find comfort and hope in the Gospel in refugee camps or in foreign countries to which they have fled. Untold others have been martyred for our faith.
The systematic effort to eliminate Christians from the Middle East has resulted in genocide comparable to the Holocaust of World War II. But, many of us, like the rich man dressed in purple garments, simply go about our business oblivious of the sacrifices so many of our sisters and brothers are making for the faith we share. Living in a nation where our freedom to worship is a guaranteed freedom, we have fallen victim to the attitude that the Prophet Amos warns against in our First Reading. (Amos 6:1, 4-7) We have become “complacent.”
In fact, we have become so very complacent that, on Sunday mornings, rather than taking advantage of the great freedom to worship as we choose, many of us remain lying upon beds…stretched comfortable on couches…rather than doing what people are risking their very lives to do…share in the Eucharist.
The parable that Jesus used to challenge the Pharisees is not an attack on wealth, it is an echo of Amos’s warning against complacency. We can’t change the sins of the past, but we can at least learn from them. We might not be personally, or even as a nation, capable of stopping the mass murders that are going on at this very moment in the Middle East, Africa, India, and in many other parts of the world, but we can at least be aware of what is happening.
This week’s Readings caution us that when we allow anything to overshadow our commitment to Christ and to others, we are in grave spiritual danger.
This week’s Readings are a sober reminder to us that when we get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life that we ignore the sufferings of others…we are in grave spiritual danger.
This week’s Readings are a stark reminder that when we become so self-indulgent and self-absorbed that we are not made ill by things like religious persecution, bigotry, and genocide…we are in grave spiritual danger.
This week’s Readings call us to acknowledge that all human suffering does involve us, because all humanity is unified in Christ!
We can’t change the past, but we have a duty to remember and to learn from it. Unlike the rich man, who was so preoccupied with himself that he didn’t notice the beggar at his gate, we might not be in a position to change things…but we cannot be complacent. We must make a point of at least being aware of the sacrifice so many make to enjoy the banquet at which we feast without a second thought.
We must at least be aware or we become part of the sin!