Reflection on This Week’s Readings

OPTICAL ILLUSIONS

Have you ever seen one of those pictures that changes depending on how you look at it? Is it a rabbit or a duck? Is it a vase or two faces looking at one another? A young woman or an old one? Sometimes our first impression of something gets in the way of us seeing it another way.

In the parable Jesus tells today, there is a man with wealth and influence who has always seen his life as a success. That success seems all the more pronounced in contrast to a poor, sick beggar who is always hanging around the entrance to his house. But when the rich man dies, he realizes that his life was actually the opposite of what he thought. It was not his possessions or status that mattered; it was the justice and love he showed to others. When it came to those things, he was far more impoverished and much sicker than the man he looked down on every day.

When we look at our own lives, it can be easy to get stuck in just one way of seeing them. If we focus on worldly standards, we may judge ourselves as successes or failures in ways that are out of touch with how God sees us. With this parable, Jesus calls us to new ways of looking at ourselves. Where are we missing the opportunities right outside our front door to act with love and justice for our siblings near and far?

In Christian worship, we gather to practice the way our lives and our world appear to God. We lift up the cries that have gone unheard. We look at one another and ourselves through the redemptive waters of baptism. We feed one another around the table that Christ sets for us all in our common need. As witnesses to God’s truth, we send one another forth to shatter misguided illusions in the world around us.

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READINGS FOR THE SIXTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Standard Sundays continue with the proclamation of the second half of Luke’s gospel, and today one of the most well-known parables. Some years, Lectionary 26 falls on September 29, the festival of Michael and All Angels. Presiding ministers may pray both the prayer of the day and that of the festival (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 48). The prayers of intercession may include a petition for the continuing protection of the angels for the church and the world.

 

 

Christians are called to have mercy on all who are in need. That this parable has been so literalized in Christian imagination indicates the power of a well-crafted narrative and people’s perpetual fascination with the afterlife. Care must be taken to avoid any such literal interpretation, which would suggest that those who are embraced by God would not care about the suffering of others. Luke’s position that “Moses and the prophets” point the world to Christ is a foundational principle of the ecumenical lectionary.

 

 

It is almost as if when recording this parable Luke was thinking of this passage from Amos when imagining the rich man at his banquet. Amos calls for the people to grieve over the sufferings of the northern kingdom, just as Luke implies that believers will attend to the sufferings of the poor.

 

 

This excerpt from 1 Timothy is remarkably appropriate for this Sunday. In Christ believers discover the true treasury. They are to be rich in good works. The good fight of faith is described as marked by love, endurance, and gentleness, yet also pursues righteousness and generosity. Rather than loving money, Christians are to be ready to share.

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