First Reading: Am 6:1a. 4-7.; Psalm: 146. R. v. 1b; Second Reading: 1Tim 6:11-16; Gospel: Lk 16:19-31
THE LAZARUS BY OUR GATE
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
The story of the rich man and Lazarus obviously defies the usual style of a parable. There is nowhere in the scriptures that Jesus mentioned a name while telling a parable except in this one. This suggests it might be a true life story which apparently the Jewish people knew of; except the second phase of the story that transcends the physical world which Jesus was able to reveal to them by reason of his nature as God. Verily, a message makes deeper impression especially when the story told to illustrate it is familiar to the audience. So Jesus enthralled his Jewish audience specially on this one.
There are apparently some gray areas in this parable because the parable seemingly suggested heaven as the reward of the poor and hell the place for the rich. Was Jesus saying that it was Lazarus’ poverty and suffering that merited him heaven? Because nothing more was said in this parable of Lazarus except that he was a poor man who desired some charity that was not offered him. Also, the rich man was obviously not a wicked man. He was not reported in this parable as someone who was violent towards Lazarus. He did not beat up Lazarus neither did he kick him out of his gate. So what was his crime? Being a rich man?
Lazarus undoubtedly was a good man. This parable was only one side of his story. If Lazarus wasn’t a holy man, even his poverty and pitiable condition would not save him. Heaven is not merited by pity but by righteous living. On the part of the rich man; he may not have attacked Lazarus but we know that in life even our inactions affect people especially in moments when our actions are required to mitigate the pains and sufferings of others. So, the sin of this rich man was the sin of omission; the sin of negligence and indifference.
We need to understand that riches are a blessing from God. A gift God gives us to better the condition of one another. Recall the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:16-21. The sin of the rich fool was selfishness. He thought of himself alone. This is one of the pitfalls of riches. Clearly, Lazarus was not far away from this rich man. He was very close to him; at the very gate of his house. Yet this rich man feasted sumptuously every day covered with his expensive purple linen while the very poor man at his gate starved everyday covered with sores. He was not sparing in caring for himself but was completely unconcerned by the condition of Lazarus. The nearness of Lazarus to riches and comfort and yet could not have a taste of it makes the sin of this rich man inexcusable.
Today, poverty and riches still co-exist in proximity. It is a reality in our immediate vicinities, places of work, and even in our Churches. Possible indicators of this reality are those who go by foot versus those who go by their cars. Those dressed in gorgeous expensive wears in contrast to those in faded shabby clothes. Those who eat and throw away leftovers as opposed to those who cannot even afford a descent meal. Those who live in shack houses as against those who live in cosy apartments. Those at the locations in comparison to those in town. The disabled who beg to eat as against the able-bodied who work to feed. We can go on and on. These two classes of people intermingle in our society today. And a lot of us capable of alleviating the sufferings of the poor turn a blind eye to their conditions.
My dearest in Christ seated in this Church, I must admit that I felt scared reflecting on this gospel. I feared I may be guilty of the sin of this rich man. By having much more to give out than what I actually gave out. By hesitating in situations I was supposed to act instantly. By not being very much sensitive to your needs especially the poor ones among you. By making you feel deprived and impoverished by my demands and lifestyle. By not attending to your spiritual needs as much as needed. Priests are humans too. So pardon us when you feel neglected by our actions and inactions. Pardon me in particular when you felt I wasn’t there for you.
A lot of us scandalise the poor by our lifestyle. We dangle before their faces wealth and splurge living that they don’t have access to; resulting to their feelings of deprivation and exclusion which can be damaging to their emotional wellbeing. You and I are guilty of this. Just imagine how the needy Lazarus would have felt seeing the wealth and the extravagant lifestyle of this rich man but still cannot partake in it. Don’t whet the appetite of the poor with your riches when you cannot help them. This kind of deprivation is an emotional torment on the poor and a sin against God. It cannot go unpunished.
The parable of today’s gospel re-echoes that neglect and indifference especially on matters regarding the wellbeing of the human person is a grave sin. The worst of it all is when we have the needy very near to us and when we are capable of doing something to help their condition and decide to do nothing at all. The needy will not always have the courage to approach us or the voice to speak out; but we have the wisdom and discernment to see some of the things that weigh them down and the need for us to step in.
As the Lord God said through the prophet Amos, woe shall be upon those who feel relaxed, eat, drink, and make merry but are not grieved over the ruin of the poor; they shall not go unpunished. Let us therefore look around us; for there are so many Lazaruses by our gates. We should not hesitate to give, share, intervene or speak up in defence of these poor and vulnerable people when we are capable of doing so. It is part of fighting the good fight of the faith as Saint Paul advised. So that after our earthly sojourn, we shall all be united in Abraham’s bosom and there will be no chasm to separate us.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, we acknowledge our negligence and indifference for the many times we failed to witness to you through our choices and actions. We pray for the grace to rise from our slumber and be at the services of the poor and helpless. Amen.