26th Sunday of Ordinary Time (September 29, 2013)
Am 6:1, 4-7
1 Tim 6:11-16
On April 26, 2006 Aron Ralston was hiking in the Blue John Canyon in Utah. He was an avid outdoorsman and was hiking down a slot canyon by himself. These are known to narrow, but very deep. In this particular canyon there was a suspended boulder lodged between the walls, which was blocking his way. He decided to climb down deeper and go below it. Unfortunately as he was climbing down, the 800lb boulder somehow came loose, rolled back and pinned his right arm against the canyon wall. He was trapped down in a deep canyon, with little food or water and he never told his family or friends that he went on this hike.
He spent the next three days trying to lift the boulder or somehow wiggle his arm free with no luck. Aron was becoming dehydrated and delirious. On the fourth day, he realized his only way out was to amputate his arm. He spent the rest of that day practicing making different tourniquets and trying to figure out where to cut his arm using only a two inch pocket knife. Aron gave up because he came to the realization that his little knife would never be able to cut through the bones in his arm. He ran out of food and water the next day and was trying to make peace with the fact that he was going to die in that deep chasm all alone. So he took his knife and carved his name, date of birth and presumed date of death on the sandstone wall. He fell asleep, fully thinking he would never wake up. But he did wake up the next day and had an epiphany. Without going into the gory details, he figured out how to break the bones in his forearm, then took the knife and completed the amputation. Aron was able to finally free himself, climb up out of the canyon, rappel down a 65-foot sheer wall all with only one hand. By the grace of God, another family was hiking in the area and was able to contact a rescue helicopter for Aron. In total he spent 127 hours trapped, lost 40 lbs of body weight and 25% of his blood volume. He survived the ordeal, married his wife Jessica in 2009 and became a father with the birth of his son Leo in 2010. During an interview in January 2011, Aron said, “I smiled as I cut off my arm. I was grateful to be free.”
I think this story, which may seem gruesome at first, is actually very inspiring. It can teach us a lot especially when viewed in light of today’s Gospel parable from Luke. Lazarus spent his time on earth with no money and hardly any food. His body was covered in sores so he obviously was in poor health. He was the poorest of the poor. Lazarus spent his final days lying at the door of a very wealthy man hoping that this man would give him a scrap of food. Perhaps the rich man was too busy to intervene, didn’t want to get his hands dirty or just didn’t want to waste his time with a poor beggar. So, with no charity shown to him, Lazarus died. But what he lacked in earthly wealth, God more than made up for in Heaven. His lack of attachment to material things allowed him to let go of this world as the angels carried him up to God and Abraham in heaven. In an ironic twist, the wealthy man who ignored everyone else but his own needs also died. All of his wealth, all of his attachments to this world could not keep him out of the fiery pits of hell in the afterlife.
What happens next should be a wake up call to all of us. There is a definite separation between heaven and hell that can’t be crossed. Once you enter one, you are not permitted to venture to the other. Not even Lazarus in heaven is permitted to give a drop of water to the rich man in hell. Even more daunting is that Abraham denies the request of the rich man to warn his sinful brothers, who are still alive, to repent. Abraham’s reason is that those sinful people have everything they need to make good moral decisions, but still choose to do wrong. They still insist to separate themselves from God and cling to their own ways, which will ultimately lead them to the same fiery pit as the rich man.
Why do I say this is a wake up call? Because you never know when today or tomorrow will be your last day. You never know when that sin you insist to cling onto will be the very thing that sinks you deeper and deeper into the chasm of hell on your judgment day. Some may be out there thinking, “Oh come on. I am a decent person. It’s not like I burnt down a church or murdered someone.” It’s funny how we default to that mentality when we try to justify our own shortcomings. I’m pretty sure on our judgment day God isn’t going to ask you, “So…what did you NOT do?” “Well I’m glad you asked. I didn’t burn down a church or join a gang.” No, God is going to ask you, “What did you do for me? What did you do to the least of my people? What did you do with the gifts I entrusted to you?” As the rich man shows us in this parable, “seeking happiness in material things is a sure way of being unhappy” (Pope Francis, Twitter, Sept 15). We need to identify what things are pinning us down and separating us from God right now. Sometimes we may even get so involved with the wrong things that we become delirious and don’t even realize what we’re doing is harming our souls. That is why prayerfully examining our daily lives and regularly going to the sacrament of reconciliation can be so very powerful. This is how we identify what things we need to cut out of our lives. Sometimes this can hurt. Talk to someone who went through alcohol or drug rehab and they will tell you of the pain they went through to cut out their sin. But here’s the glory of it all; the thing that makes it so beautiful in the end. If you are willing and able to deal with your sin now…if you are willing to help others instead of only focusing on yourself…you too can experience the glory of heaven after death. But waiting to start tomorrow may be too late.
Remember Aron’s quote from earlier? “I smiled as I cut my arm off. I was grateful to be free.” Ask God to help you identify your sins right now. Ask God to give you the strength to cut them off right now. Ask God to show you how you can help others right now. Jesus loves you! Allow him to set you free. Allow him to raise you out of the chasm of sin. And as you are going through the pain of cutting off your sins…as you are going through the pain of letting go of your ways and following God’s ways…smile and be grateful that you are being set free in Christ.