WOE TO YOU RICH – Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 21, Year C; Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (RC)

September 25, 2022

Revised Common Lectionary
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 or Amos 6:1a, 4-7
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 or Psalm 146
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31


Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Amos 6:1a, 4-7
Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10 (1b)
1 Timothy 6:11-16
Luke 16:19-31

Most of us have likely heard some version of the “prosperity gospel.” Proponents of this theology are convinced that financial wealth and physical well-being are evidence of God’s blessing. Some go so far as to claim that God wants nothing more than for us to be rich.

Apparently, Jesus did not get the prosperity gospel memo. In fact, the parable that he tells in today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke stands in direct contradiction to the prosperity gospel. It expresses in story form the many teachings about wealth that are laid out throughout Luke’s Gospel.

During his lifetime, the rich man seems to have enjoyed great blessings—nice clothes, good food, no wants. Lazarus, the poor man, is reduced to lying by the gate and longing to enjoy some of the rich man’s excess. After their deaths, there is a great reversal, with the rich man tormented in flames and Lazarus resting in the bosom of Abraham. The rich man finally gets the message and asks that Lazarus be sent to warn his brothers. Of course, Abraham reminds him that they have Moses and the prophets—including the powerful passage from Amos that we also hear today.

Throughout the Gospel of Luke, the teachings of Jesus are completely opposed to any expression of the prosperity gospel. In the reign of God that Jesus proclaims in word and deed, it is the poor who are especially favored by God. In the song of Mary, we hear that God “has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Lk 1:53). At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus announced that he had been sent “to bring good news to the poor” (4:18). In Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, he proclaimed, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (6:20), and “woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (6:24).

In today’s parable from Luke and in the passage we hear from the prophet Amos, it isn’t insider trading, unfair business practices, or predatory pricing that draw criticism. It’s wealth itself that’s identified as the problem. The rich man of Luke’s parable is so focused on his lavish lifestyle that he doesn’t even notice Lazarus at the gate. Amos uses harsh language to characterize the ease of those who enjoy comfortable surroundings, eat the finest food, “sing idle songs” (Am 6:5), drink wine, and pamper themselves with body oils. They are so preoccupied with their comfortable lives that they pay no heed to the decay taking place in their nation.

The two readings from Amos and Luke are of course deeply challenging to proponents of the prosperity gospel. They also provide a starkly different view from the principles underlying our consumerist economy. The comfort of the well-off is an obstacle to seeing the world as God sees it, a world in which the poor and the lowly embody the values of God’s reign. As Jesus remarked to the rich young ruler later in the Gospel, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God” (Lk 18:24).

A Hymn for Today: “I’ll Praise My Maker”

Appropriately, both the Revised Common Lectionary and the Roman Catholic Lectionary for Mass assign Psalm 146 as a companion to today’s readings from Amos and Luke. Perhaps there is no psalm that more strongly expresses God’s favor for the poor and the lowly. In this very well-known paraphrase of Psalm 146 by the great English hymn writer Isaac Watts and adapted by John Wesley, the second and third stanzas pick up this central theme.

I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath;
and when my voice is lost in death,
praise shall employ my nobler powers.
My days of praise shall ne’er be past
while life and thought and being last,
or immortality endures.

How happy they whose hopes rely
on Israel’s God, who made the sky
and earth and seas with all their train;
whose truth forever stands secure,
who saves th’oppressed and feeds the poor,
and none shall find God’s promise vain.

The Lord pours eyesight on the blind;
the Lord supports the fainting mind
and send the laboring conscience peace.
God helps the stranger in distress,
the widowed and the parentless,
and grants the prisoner sweet release.

I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath;
and when my voice is lost in death,
praise shall employ my nobler powers.
My days of praise shall ne’er be past
while life and thought and being last,
or immortality endures.

Text: Isaac Watts, 1674-1748; adapt. John Wesley, 1703-1791, alt.

Image Credit: The Rich Man and Lazarus, JESUS MAFA, Cameroon, 1971

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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