If you can handle one more “When I was a kid” story, I thank you for your indulgence. But, “when I was a kid,” every spring we would go to the cabin at Lake Tahoe and open it up for spring cleaning. One spring I opened the top drawer of our dresser and found a nest of little teeny mice. They were babies with no mama around. I called my mom and after she screamed, she was ready to throw
I had a fit. These were MY mice and I was going to keep them as pets during the summer. My mom, despite her dislike of mice let me keep them. I can’t even remember their names but we got a hamster cage and one of those little bottles that hangs on the outside of the cage. They were awfully small and skinny and could not reach the bottle. So my grandmother stepped in and took
an eye dropper, filled it full of whiskey and sugar, and started feeding them by hand. My grandmother said whiskey and sugar cured all ills, including her own(!) and by gosh, she was right. They began to grow. We kept them all summer and when fall came we had to go back to Reno to get ready for school. Sure enough they ended up in the back yard underneath a beautiful false cherry tree, with a
cross and proper burial rites. I still remember.
Later on, it occurred to me that my mom went against her own nature and fear of mice so that I could learn a lesson about caring for something other than myself. Later on I also learned that dogs and cats are much more acceptable to people than a drawer full of mice.
People can and do change their minds and even go against their better nature if there is a good reason to do so. To do this, a “great reversal” has to take place in one’s mind and heart. This great reversal is a specialty of St. Luke’s Gospel. From the very beginning, Luke refers back to an understanding that God uses the great reversal to teach us some very important lessons; all the way back to Adam and Eve walking in peace and joy with God in the garden. Because of a seemingly
innocent act, eating the apple, they realize they have gone against God’s wishes and are thrown out of the Garden.
Luke uses this image as he later compares the old Adam going against God’s will to Jesus as the “New Adam” who does the will of god, reversing original sin in the world back to original innocence. Mary becomes the “New Eve” for she now takes the responsibility from Eve, the mother of all the living, to be the mother of the living God.
The great reversal happens throughout the Gospel: Think of it: the lowliest person to ever live among us, born in a stable, a refugee in Egypt; “Isn’t this Jesus? The carpenter’s son?” – actually is the Son of God who offers us the riches, not of this earth but in the life to come. Mary, a poor, lowly, young
pregnant girl should have been stoned for her misdeeds and wayward life, ends up hearing the voice of an angel calling her to Elizabeth’s side. And Elizabeth herself, sterile and aged is soon to a mother. Her husband Zechariah is struck speechless in the Temple during prayers and becomes the father of the great voice, John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness.
As we continue with today’s readings, we continue with Jesus’ teaching called the Sermon on the Plain which we began all the way back in February. Listen to how he turns the world upside down.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!
Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.” (6:20b-23a) The poor and hungry of the world are not blessed because they are poor and hungry—poverty is not held up here as a good thing—but because, what they do not have now, they will one day have in the Kingdom of God, which Jesus just told them is already theirs!
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.” (6:24-26)
Jesus doesn’t say this is a new problem that the world is facing. As a matter of fact, our first reading from Amos, describes the type of life that is lived in a world of peace, prosperity and comfort. But in just a few years this peace, prosperity and comfort is swept away as the Assyrians in an attack that turns the world upside down – no peace — no prosperity — no comfort can happen in exile.
And two hundred years later after the Assyrians, after the captivity of the Babylonians, a new enemy appears, the Persians. And yet it is the king of that new enemy, King Darius, that sends the Hebrews back to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple and their lives.
The Scribes and Pharisees, the ones who are supposed to care for the temple and people by representing God, these are the ones who cringe at the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Probably because they have a guilty conscience. Jesus never says the “rich man” is a bad and evil person. He just happens to be rich and living a lifestyle that would have been perfectly normal for a rich man. As a matter of fact, he had to know who Lazarus was, because it says that Lazarus was lying at
his door. Every time the rich man went out he probably saw Lazarus, but Lazarus was poor and was simply living a lifestyle that would have been perfectly normal for a poor man.
But death does not distinguish between the rich and the poor. So when both die Luke’s great reversal happens again. The poor man dies and is carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man goes to the netherworld and is in torment. It is only then that he learns his lesson. He could have put food in the hands of the poor, but never touched them. Now all he wants is to have Lazarus
dip only his finger in water to cool his tongue.
Through Abraham our Lord teaches the lesson… We have Moses and the prophets. If we don’t listen to them, neither will we listen to someone who has risen from the dead. Jesus, a carpenter, around wood all his life, finally dies on the wood of the cross. How much do we listen to him today? His body broken on the cross, is now broken here in the bread, the blood of the Lord poured out for us today.
Luke gives us plenty of opportunity to see the world around us and look at the choices that can change us and reverse the course of our lives.
Remember my grandmother, the one with the whisky and sugar? I’ve never forgotten her kindness to me or my mice. I remember how sad I was when she died. She was buried at Eastlawn Cemetery in Sacramento a few blocks from where my mom grew up. She was buried next to my grandfather, whom I never knew. But now if you go there, after all these years, giant oak trees are pushing
up the grave markers. Out of life comes death and out of death comes life. And just like those little mice that she helped me bury under the cherry tree, the great reversal will come. We either go to the bosom of Abraham or to somewhere else.
Wherever we go, let’s pray that someone always calls out for us and that no one ever forgets to tell our story.