by Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
Gregory Maguire’s book, “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West” was published in 1995. In 2003, it was presented at the Gershwin Theatre as the musical production, “Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz,” with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman.
It is basically a prequel to the “Wizard of Oz” and tells the story of how the Wicked Witch was not always wicked and the Good Witch was not always so good.
Being a longtime fan of the “Wizard of Oz” (which I believe has a profound spiritual message for viewers of all ages), I resented the play even before I saw it. I didn’t like the idea of someone tampering with something I already appreciated so much. You can imagine that I was quite surprised when I saw and enjoyed it.
I had to admit that it was a very pleasant experience and that its message of the potential we all have for good and evil was profound. Seeing how different the main characters were at the beginning and at the end of the play was an interesting theater experience.
The before and after transformation that provides the plot of “Wicked” is very widely used in advertising. Magazines often run pictures of smiles before and after a specific brand of toothpaste is used. Commercials highlight the agony before a specific aspirin is taken and the relief that comes after. Shampoo manufacturers advertise the difference in dry hair and split ends before and after their product’s use. The list can go on and on. Actually, it sets the tone of today’s Gospel passage.
In the opening lines of the Gospel story, Jesus presents the characters. There was a rich man, well dressed and well fed. At his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered in sores and hungry. Lazarus wanted to eat the scraps from the poor man’s table, but we are not told whether the rich man even knew Lazarus was there.
The two men appear quite differently when they die. The poor man is carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham, while the rich man is buried and remains in torment in the netherworld. Although the rich man’s wealth might seem to be attractive at first, there is nothing attractive about his condition at the end of the Gospel. On the other hand, Lazarus’ ultimate reward makes the suffering he endured meaningful.
The point, of course, is that how we live our lives here and now will make a difference on Judgment Day. The Baltimore Catechism, THE religion text for my generation, is a collection of questions and answers that were the basis for teaching the faith. The answer to the question, “Why did God make me?” is “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.”
Scripture gives us some insight into what that means. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, when asked — “Which is the greatest commandment?” — Jesus replies, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
“This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
“All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt. 22:38-40). So, basically, the message is that if we want to get to heaven one day, we are expected to know, love and serve God by following his commandment to love Him, and because we love Him, to love one another. It may seem difficult now, but the “after picture” is something to hope for.
Readings for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Amos 6:1A, 4-7
Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
1 Timothy 6:11-16
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of Transfiguration-St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Maspeth.