Have you ever prayed for a miracle? What if someone told you that your prayer was answered, that you had experienced that miracle, but that you didn’t even realize it at the time?
In today’s first reading, Amos rails on and on against the wealthy, the comfortable, the ones who use expensive oils and who eat lambs and calves – which should have been saved for use as sacrifices at the temple. But it’s not their positions in life he bemoans, not their riches, rather it’s their complacency. He states: “Woe to the complacent.”
There’s a similar message in the Gospel as we hear about the plight of a rich man clothed in expensive purple garments and a poor man whose wounds are licked by unclean dogs. Purple was a hard color to come by back then; it came from the shell of a rare sea creature… so if your clothing was made of purple then that meant you were all that. If you were a beggar whose wounds were licked by dogs then it meant you were not.
Both men died. The rich man is eternally punished – not for his riches – but rather for the fact that he did not perform his duty to care for the poor man who begged outside of the gate of his home.
Wealth, comfort, not being challenged or having to experience hardship, taking things for granted, choosing the easiest path… these can all lead to complacency. And complacency is… tragically unhelpful... when it comes to our faith.
The rich man in Jesus’ story, who now in his afterlife suffers great torment, asks Father Abraham to send a risen Lazarus back to his five brothers to warn them. The response he receives in return is essentially: ‘Are you kidding me? They have Moses and the prophets and if they don’t listen to them, they will never listen to a risen Lazarus.’ Those brothers had also grown complacent. So complacent that they would not heed the warnings of a person they knew to have already died.
I’m struck by the idea that seeing a man come back to life and being issued a warning from the grave, receiving a special message from their own dear brother, was not enough to save the complacent brothers.
Seeing a person before them who had risen from the dead was not enough…
Think about all the people who witnessed the great miracles of Christ, yet who ultimately called for his death when he entered Jerusalem. Think about those who saw him heal the man born blind, feed the thousands with just a small bit of bread and fish, banish the demons and change water into wine, and yet who departed him in the blink of an eye when he stated that in order to achieve eternal life, they needed to pick up their crosses and follow him.
For all those people, miracles were not enough…
We are hearing in today’s readings that it’s our state of being, the readiness of our souls that counts. Not only the miracles themselves. We have to be prepared, ready, and willing to receive the grace that comes from those miracles if they are to change us for the better.
But how can we do this?
The answer is in today’s second reading. St. Paul writes the following to Timothy: “Compete well for the faith.” You could interpret this to mean that we need to work hard for and fight for our faith… sure. But he states that we have to compete. He uses the word compete. This begs the question: with whom or with what are we competing? The spirit of evil? Of course. But I believe he is saying here that we need to fight against the great threat to our salvation and that is a complacency of our own making.
For us then…
Let’s not be the five brothers who could not be saved.
Let’s not wait for a miracle that we might not even notice or accept once it happens right before our very eyes.
Let’s not bemoan every hardship.
Let’s not take anything for granted.
Let’s not choose the easiest path.
Instead, let’s compete well for our faith.
For when we do… well then, there’s your miracle right there…