Year C – 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Parable of Dives and Lazarus

(Amos 6:1a,4-7; 1Tim.6:11-16; Lk.16:19-31)

How many parables are there? Surprisingly, no-one’s quite sure. One scholar says there are 33, but other sources say there are 30, or 37, or 40, or 46, or even 60.

It all depends on how you count them, whether you include various proverbs and metaphors, and whether you group together parables like The Lost Sheep and The Lost Coin.

Jesus’ parables occupy a third of the first three Gospels. He likes using them in his teaching, for he knows how much people love stories.

In Hebrew, the word for parable is mashal, which also means ‘riddle’. So, Jesus’ parables serve as riddles that make us think.

Harvey Cox says that one of the most surprising features of Jesus’ parables is that they are not about God. Rather, they are about ordinary things like weddings and banquets, family tensions, muggings, farmers sowing and reaping, and shrewd business dealings. Only one or two actually mention God.

Cox’s point is that Jesus wants us to look closely at this world we live in, and not somewhere else, for it’s in the here and now – all around us in the most ordinary things of life – that we find God’s divine presence. [i]

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Parables always work at two levels. There’s the literal level with a very simple story, and then there’s a deeper level offering us profound lessons about life.

Today’s parable is The Rich Man and Lazarus. We don’t know the rich man’s name, but some call him Dives, which simply means ‘rich man’ in Latin. I’ll use that name for him today.

This Lazarus isn’t the brother of Martha and Mary. Lazarus was a common name back then; it means ‘God has helped’. Interestingly, this Lazarus is the only character that Jesus actually gives a name in any of his parables.

The first half of this story is set on earth. The rich man is enjoying life with fine food and clothes in his very expensive home, but he totally ignores poor Lazarus, who is sick and starving and waiting just outside his gate. 

The story then switches to the afterlife as both men die. Their roles are reversed, and Dives finds himself trapped in hell, while Lazarus is delighted to find himself with Abraham in heaven. (And we recall Jesus’ promise that the last will be first, and the first will be last [Mt.20:16]).

We soon discover that Dives actually knew Lazarus all along, because he uses his name to demand a cooling drink. But he still hasn’t learnt anything, because he treats Lazarus dismissively, like a slave.

On the surface, this story is simple: Dives should have done something to help Lazarus.  But like all parables, this one offers us plenty of food for thought.

Firstly, it reminds us that human suffering is everywhere, and it asks us to reflect on our own response to it. Dives had every comfort, while Lazarus suffered in misery, and we are reminded of Jesus’ words: ‘Whatever you do to the least of my people you do to me’ (Mt.25:40).

St Teresa of Kolkata built her life on these words. Whenever she found someone abandoned and suffering, she always saw them as ‘Jesus in disguise’.

Lazarus, covered in sores and licked by street dogs, was Jesus in disguise.

How do we respond to such suffering? There’s so much hardship and pain in our world today. Every family, community, school and workplace has people who struggle. They might need friendship, encouragement or some kind of practical support, but they are all Jesus Christ himself.

And secondly, this parable warns us that hell is real. Jesus often talks about hell in the Gospels (e.g., Mk.9:43, 48; Mt.10:28; 13:42; 25:30, 41). In fact, he talks more often about hell than about heaven.

Today, he’s telling us to choose, because once we cross over that threshold into eternal life, it will be too late to change our minds.

Dives wanted to escape from hell but knew he couldn’t. As Abraham says to him, ‘…between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, to stop anyone, if he wanted to, crossing from our side to yours, and from your side to ours.’

Dives then asks if his brothers can be warned not to make the same mistake. But Abraham says, ‘if they won’t listen to Moses or the prophets, they won’t be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.’

He’s right, isn’t he? Jesus himself rose from the dead, and yet so many people today refuse to listen to him.

So often with parables, the real story begins when the storyteller ends.

What’s your response to the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus?

[i] Harvey Cox, When Jesus Came to Harvard: Making Moral Choices Today (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2004), 155, 159. Quoted in Richard Rohr’s Daily Reflection, the Parables of Jesus, August 2022.

Year C – 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Parable of the Dishonest Steward

(Am.8:4-7; 1Tim.2:1-8; Lk.16:1-13)

Do you remember Aesop’s fables? Aesop was a legendary storyteller in Ancient Greece. No-one’s quite sure whether he was a former slave or actually more than one person, but hundreds of stories are ascribed to him, and each offers a lesson in morality. Here’s one:

The birds and the beasts were at war with each other, and the bat tried to belong to both sides. When the birds were winning, the bat told everyone that he was a bird. And when the beasts were winning, he said he was one of them.

At the peace conference after the war, the birds and the beasts called the bat a hypocrite. As punishment, they banished the bats, and ever since then bats have always hidden themselves in the daytime and only fly at night [i]

The moral to this story is that you cannot commit to two opposing priorities at once. Or as Jesus tells us, you cannot serve two masters.

This is what Jesus is saying in his Parable of the Dishonest Steward in today’s Gospel. A landowner sacks his steward (his estate manager) for handling his property dishonestly. We don’t know what he did wrong, but it’s clear that he not only served his employer; he also looked after himself, and was caught.

In those days, stewards had the right to charge a commission on every transaction they handled for their employer.  But just before leaving his job, the steward decides to call in his master’s debtors. He offers to reduce their debts, probably by deleting his commission from their contracts. 

5 Types of Employee Theft and How to Prevent Them | i-Sight

He’s taking a loss, but he’s also securing his own future by earning goodwill. The customers are delighted to have their debts reduced, and his former master is pleased to see his customers so happy. He praises the steward for being shrewd.

After getting caught doing something wrong, the steward is finally doing something right.

Many people find this story puzzling; they think Jesus is praising dishonest behaviour, but he’s not. Like all parables, this one is meant to surprise us and make us think.

To begin with, this story encourages us to be wise in the way we use our resources, because when our time is up, we cannot take anything with us. In other words, we must use whatever we have to help those who are struggling. 

In this parable, the steward’s time is up and he’s using what’s left of his important position to help those in need. He does something significant.

As Jesus says, ‘I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves so that when it’s gone, you’ll be welcomed into eternal dwellings.’ This is similar to Jesus’ teaching in his Sermon on the Mount where he tells us to store up our treasure in heaven (Mt.6:19-21).

This parable reminds us that there are two worlds: our earthly, day-to-day life, and the kingdom of God. So many people today focus only on the first, and they completely ignore the second.

They invest enormous amounts of time and energy into ensuring their worldly success and comfort, but they spend almost no time at all on preparing their souls for eternal life.

They might call themselves Christian, but in truth they are slaves to their worldly obsessions. This is why Jesus reminds us, ‘no servant can serve two masters… You cannot serve both God and money.’

If we seriously care about our souls and allow God to be our master, then we’ll use what we have to please him. Like the steward in today’s parable, we’ll do what we can to help others, and in the process we’ll store up treasure in heaven.

As Jewish rabbis used to say: ‘The rich help the poor in this world, but the poor help the rich in the world to come’. [ii]

Let’s close with the story of Cardinal Wolsey (1475-1530). He was a great achiever who rose from humble beginnings to be Lord Chancellor of England, one of the most powerful positions in the country. He owed it all to his lord and master, King Henry VIII, to whom he was completely loyal.

In the end, however, he fell out of favour with Henry, and he finished up back where he started. At the end of his life, he uttered these memorable words: ‘Would that I had served my God but half as well as I served my king.’ [iii]

Wolsey’s mistake was that he gave absolute priority to serving King Henry. We can learn from him.

There are two worlds, but only one will last forever.


[ii] Geoff Plant, Welcoming the Outsider, Garratt Publishing, Melbourne, 2009:176.

[iii] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, Year C, Dominican Publications, Dublin, 2018:328-329.

Year C – 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lost Sheep

(Ex.32:7-11,13-14; 1Tim.1:12-17; Lk.15:1-32)

Someone once asked me, ‘Isn’t it wrong for Jesus to leave 99 sheep, to search for just one? Shouldn’t he have stayed with the 99?’

John Pilch offers us one answer in his book, The Cultural World of Jesus. He says that in Jesus’ day, even one sheep was valuable because each family only had about 40 sheep. So, if there were 100 sheep, there must have been more than one flock, and more than one shepherd. The 99 therefore were not left unattended. [i]

St Teresa of Kolkata gives us another answer. For her, the lost sheep were the desperately poor people she rescued from the most awful of situations. Like the old woman she once found, dumped in a garbage bin.

Some people criticised her for her work. They said she should not have worried about a few lost sheep. Instead, she should have cared for the rest of the flock – ‘the 99’. One man, for example, said she should have taught hungry people how to fish, rather than just giving a few people something to eat.

But Mother Teresa said that’s not what God wanted her to do. She said, ‘The people I serve are helpless. They cannot stand. They cannot hold the rod. They are the lepers, the dying, the mentally ill. When they’re strong enough, someone else can teach them how to fish’.

One by one, over almost 50 years, she rescued many thousands of lost sheep.  Other shepherds, she said, could look after the rest of the flock.

In Luke’s Gospel today, Jesus reminds us that many people are lost – they’re wounded, broken and fearful. Jesus wants to bring them his love and healing. 

He gives us three parables, each presenting God the Father in a different way. 

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First, he’s the humble and caring shepherd who drops everything to find his lost sheep. Then he’s the sensible woman who carefully searches for her lost coin. And finally he’s the gentle, loving Father who waits patiently for his wayward son to return home. 

The Pharisees thought that looking for a lost sheep was a complete waste of time. But Jesus makes it clear that every lost sheep – every person, no matter how poor, pitiful or sinful – is a treasure.

God doesn’t limit his mercy to only a special few.  God is always patient, always loving and always forgiving. He wants us all to come home to him, regardless of the shape we’re in.

The Pharisees also used to say that heaven will rejoice when one sinner is obliterated. But Jesus doesn’t agree. In his first two parables today, he says the shepherd and the woman rejoice when they find their lost sheep and coin. In his third parable, the father has a great feast for his returning son.

in other words, God celebrates when we return to him.

Adolfo Quezada, in his book Radical Love, writes about Jesus’ extraordinary compassion for the lost, and he reminds us that we should all be filled with that same radical love.

He says that it’s not simply a matter of us deciding ‘what’s the loving thing to do?’ when someone needs help. Rather, each of us needs to be so filled with God’s love that we instinctively know what to do.

He says that when we’re united with God in prayer, our faith will inspire our actions, and our work will naturally be filled with love.

Quezada says that radical love demands that we use our gifts to reach out to those who suffer. We must allow the power of love to work through us to soothe their wounds, to mend their broken hearts and to give them a sense of belonging. [ii]

Let’s close with a story. In rural Ireland, Flor McCarthy went for a walk one day. Near a worker’s hut, he heard a sheep cry. He looked for the animal and found it stuck in a deep, muddy ditch.

He couldn’t let it die, so he tried to save it without falling into the hole himself. He found a spade inside the hut, and used it to cut steps into the bank of peat. He reached the sheep and slowly pulled it out.

Walking home, he thought about this experience. He stopped thinking about the trouble the sheep had caused, and started feeling joy for the life he’d saved.

He also thought about the sheep’s cry, for without it, he would never have known it was trapped. And he thought, it’s not only sheep that fall into holes. People do, too. But they’re not as smart as sheep, because they’re often too ashamed to cry or ask for help. [iii]

Yes, we’re all called to rescue lost sheep.

But let’s remember: those most in need of our help don’t always cry or ask for help.

[i] John J Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle C, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1997:136-137.

[ii] Adolfo Quezada, Radical Love, Paulist Press, NY, 2010.

[iii] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, Cycle C, Dominican Publications, Dublin, 2018:321-322.

Year C – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Shining Armour

(Wis.9:13-18; Phlm.9-10, 12-17; Lk.14:25-33)

‘Love your enemies,’ Jesus says, ‘and bless those who persecute you.’ So why today is he telling us to hate our family?

It’s because Jesus’ language, Aramaic, didn’t have a word for prefer. The Jesuit author Brendan Byrne says that in Aramaic, if you preferred one thing over another, you’d say you ‘loved’ one thing, but ‘hated’ the other. But this doesn’t mean ‘hate’ as we mean it today. It means putting God first and loving other things less.

Bill Bausch says that this is an example of ancient, non-literal Jewish talk, the kind of exaggeration a first-century Jew would use to press a deeper point. It’s similar to something else Jesus says: ‘If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. If your eye is a source of scandal, pluck it out’ (Mt.18:8-9). [i]

So, Jesus isn’t speaking literally. Rather, he’s giving us a wake-up call.

What, then, is Jesus saying? He’s reminding us that we must always put God first. And he’s warning us that putting God first has practical implications for our daily lives.

This is what Margaret Middleton learnt in 16th Century England. She was born into a Church of England family in York, and at 15 she married a butcher, John Clitherow. She took his surname and three years later, perhaps influenced by her brother-in-law who became a Catholic priest, she became a Catholic.


Margaret Clitherow took her faith seriously; it influenced every aspect of her life. She loved her husband and was keen to be a good wife and mother, but she always put God first.

This meant that she had to break the law, because it was illegal then to be Catholic in England. With her husband’s support, she hid priests in her home and she allowed them to say Mass there. She taught herself to read and write, and she ran a small school for children, including her own, where she taught the Catholic faith.

She was often gaoled in York Castle for not attending mandatory Anglican church services, and she prayed at the nearby gallows where Catholic martyrs died. She was deeply moved by those who willingly suffered and died for their faith.  

In 1586 the secret hiding places in her home were discovered, and she was arrested. To protect her children, Margaret refused to speak to her accusers, and at the age of 33 she was punished by being crushed to death.

Margaret Clitherow’s daughter Anne was gaoled for four years for refusing to attend a Church of England service, and she later became a nun in Belgium. Margaret’s sons Henry and William also became priests. [ii] [iii]

They all put God first, and accepted the harsh consequences.

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Consider also the story of Robert Mansfield in Alan Paton’s book, Cry, the Beloved Country. He was the white headmaster of a white school in South Africa who took his cricket and hockey teams to play against black schools.

When the Education Department stopped that, he resigned in protest.  Shortly afterwards, Emmanuel Nene, a leader in the black community, came to meet him. He said, ‘I’ve come to meet a man who resigns his job because he doesn’t wish to obey an order that will prevent children from playing with one another.’

Mansfield said, ‘I resigned because I think it’s time to go out and fight everything that separates people from one another. Do I look like a knight in shining armour?’

‘Yes, you look like a knight in shining armour,’ Nene replied. ‘But you are going to get wounded. Do you know that?’

‘I expect that may happen,’ Mansfield replied.

‘Well,’ said Nene, ‘you expect correctly. People don’t like what you are doing, but I’m thinking of joining you in the battle.’

‘You’re going to wear the shining armour, too?’ Mansfield asked.

‘Yes, and I’m going to get wounded, too. Not only by the government, but also by my own people as well.’

‘Aren’t you worried about the wounds?’ Mansfield asked.

‘Don’t worry about the wounds,’ said Nene. ‘When I get up there, which is my intention, the Big Judge will say to me, “Where are your wounds?” and if I say, “I haven’t any”, he’ll say “Was there nothing to fight for?” I couldn’t face that question.’ [iv]

Putting God first isn’t easy these days. There’s so much pressure on us to do anything but that.

But when you get to heaven and God asks to see your wounds, what will you show him?

And what will you say you fought for?

[i] William J Bausch, Once Upon a Gospel, Twenty-Third Publications, New London, CT. 2011:259.



[iv] Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country. Vintage Books, London, 1987.