Luke 16: 19-31
The Rich man and Lazarus
“There once was a rich man, expensively dressed in the latest fashions, wasting his days in conspicuous consumption. A poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, had been dumped on his doorstep. All he lived for was to get a meal from scraps off the rich man’s table. His best friends were the dogs who came and licked his sores.
“Then he died, this poor man, and was taken up by the angels to the lap of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell and in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham in the distance and Lazarus in his lap. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, mercy! Have mercy! Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water to cool my tongue. I’m in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that in your lifetime you got the good things and Lazarus the bad things. It’s not like that here. Here he’s consoled and you’re tormented. Besides, in all these matters there is a huge chasm set between us so that no one can go from us to you even if he wanted to, nor can anyone cross over from you to us.’
“The rich man said, ‘Then let me ask you, Father: Send him to the house of my father where I have five brothers, so he can tell them the score and warn them so they won’t end up here in this place of torment.’
“Abraham answered, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets to tell them the score. Let them listen to them.’
“‘I know, Father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but they’re not listening. If someone came back to them from the dead, they would change their ways.’
“Abraham replied, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they’re not going to be convinced by someone who rises from the dead.’”
In this parable, a hungry, sick man lies dying on the doorstep of a rich man. Inside the house, the rich man enjoys his life, and all the good things his wealth can provide. He has to pass Lazarus every time he goes in and out of his home, yet Lazarus has to wait for left-overs from his table, and nobody makes any effort to comfort him.
Maybe the rich man is so busy laughing and joking with his friends that he isn't even aware of him as he passes? Maybe the social gulf between them is so huge, the rich man simply doesn't see him - or doesn't see him as a fellow human being? Perhaps, to him, he seems no different from the nameless stray dogs who keep him company?
Yet the rich man recognises Lazarus and even knows his name when he sees him from hell. In life, he knew him, knew his desperate situation, and he chose to ignore him. Even when he sees the poor man is being treated far better in heaven than he himself is in hell, he asks Abraham to send Lazarus here and there, so he clearly still has a superior attitude to him.
We live in a period of increasing inequality, all over the world, and this is so much a tale for own own times. We're not all rich, and most people are having it tough during 'austerity', but we mustn't think that lets us off helping the poor in practical ways, or acknowledging them as our brothers and sisters. After all, the rich man isn't being punished for his wealth, but for the way he greedily squandered it in full view of someone in terrible need.
Two quotes I shared on social media recently come to mind - St John Chrysostom pointed out that if we can't find Jesus in the beggar at the church door, we won't find him in the chalice. And St Augustine said "Charity is no substitute for justice withheld".
The rich man may even have salved his conscience by thinking his left-overs were a charitable donation to Lazarus, but what was he doing to change things so Lazarus and others like him didn't need feeding? We may donate to food banks, but what are we doing to create a society where people don't have to rely on them?
Do we really see the poor and struggling people around us? Pope Francis wrote in Evangelii Gaudium, 'Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people's pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else's responsibility and not our own.'
And that's exactly what this parable warns us against.
Jesus, who told the story, died for us and rose from the dead, yet even after 2000 years, many of are not always convinced by his warnings.
Salesian Communications Worker
Open my eyes.
Soften my heart.
Don't let me turn my back on the suffering around me.
Show me yourself in my brothers and sisters who are in need.
Help me to find ways of sharing what I have ...
but give me a voice to shout for justice.