TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2019
LEARNING FROM THE RICH MAN’S MISTAKE
Readings: 1st- Amos 6:1a, 4-7; 2nd- 1 Tim. 6:11-16; Gospel- Lk. 16:19-31
What made this rich man acquire such a negative image in the scripture and Lazarus the opposite? The story of the rich man and Lazarus connects to the chain of parables that Christ used to point out to his followers the importance of seeking heavenly kingdom with their earthly possession. Last Sunday, in our reading about the parable of the unjust servant, Christ said, “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails you, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Lk. 16:9). The rich man is an example of someone who failed to use his “dishonest wealth” to secure eternal dwellings. Wealth disappointed him.
Materially, the rich man was very comfortable - “dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day.” He was in a position of privilege. Lazarus, on the other hand was poor, and represented the marginalized. Lazarus wasn’t far from the rich man. He “was lying at his door,” “covered with sores.” Lazarus was only seeking to have something to eat, “the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table” would be just enough. He was not intending to get rich like the rich man. Perhaps, only the basic necessities of having food, clothing, and shelter would be sufficient for him. Instead, dogs would come to lick the sores of the poor man’s wounds. Could those be the rich man’s dogs still feeding from the poor man’s little?
Here, Christ gives us a painfully graphic image of poverty, representing the gap between the rich and the poor. The chasm between Lazarus and the rich man in this world depicted the chasm in eternity which Abraham would highlight representing the ultimate destination of all mortals and the glories of the resurrection.
Each time I read this passage, I struggle because of the devastating impact of poverty in Africa, a poverty that leaves its victim vulnerable. Someone who cannot afford a meal in a day, someone who earns less than 3 dollars a day can be described as having sores. Ironically, some of the rich men in such societies have excess wealth. They have monies stored in different foreign banks in countries such as the United States, England, Switzerland, and Scotland. Whereas the children of the poor go through excruciating hardship and trauma. The experience of those children can be likened to the dogs licking the sores of Lazarus.
What was the offense of the rich man in today’s parable? The rich man was insensitive to the plight of the poor. The rich man was selfish. The rich man lacked compassion. The rich man was arrogant. The rich man was blinded by his wealth. He was uncharitable. The rich man refused to assist the poor Lazarus with his wealth.
The consequences of the rich man’s actions? We can describe this as a comparative parable because the entire setting placed side by side the situation of two men of different socioeconomic status here on earth and hereafter. Both Lazarus and the rich man died. While Lazarus was “carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham,” “the rich man also died and was buried.” Their positions were reversed -Lazarus went up while the rich man went down. Was the rich man taken to the netherworld because he neglected to treat Lazarus with compassion? Scripture doesn’t say exactly that but there is a correlation to his act of omission. The rich man lacked the virtue of love as Christ said, “As long as you failed to do it to the least of my brethren, you failed to do it to me” (Matt. 25:45). The rich man didn’t see Christ on the face of Lazarus. He did not listen to the prophets about the need to serve others with his material possession.
While at the other end, the rich man demanded for pity, went on to ask Abraham to send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool his thirst. He began the real death, loss of life for eternity. He is cast down from his exalted position on earth. One commentator remarked that the rich man did not change his selfishness even in death. He still wanted Lazarus to be his servant and requested Abraham to send Lazarus to dip his finger and cool his tongue. When that request failed, he begged to have him sent to his five brothers, “so that he may warn them, lest they too may come to this place of torment” (Lk. 16:27-28). Selfishness is not cured by death.
The parable of the rich man warns us against treating the poor badly. It challenges us to not neglect them. The rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers lest they come to the same place of torment. That place of torment is hellfire. Abraham’s words sound strongly to us, “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.” Let us make use of our opportunities to do good. Let us use every chance we have to serve the poor. The rich man blew his chances. He saw Lazarus as a piece of dirty man who deserved no better than to remain where he was. He bypassed him daily. Hell is real for those who fail to hear the call to repentance.
In our own case, this Sunday, members of Saint Vincent de Paul Society in the parish are asking for support for their ministry. We all know that the ministry of St. Vincent de Paul is dedicated to helping the poor and the needy around us. Based on the spirituality of their founder, Saint Vincent de Paul Society reaches out to those facing different challenges- paying house rent, electric bills, water, heater in the winter, paying to support their children’s education and many other kinds of needs. I went back to read an article written by Rene Cover in the Family Apostolate magazine titled “Mary set out as quickly as she could into the hill country” with the subtitle, “How home visits as Vincentians impact lives.” In that article, Rene gives a wonderful image of how Vincentians take the risk of going into the homes of strangers to offer help. The ministry describes those they help as “neighbors.” Vincentians bring a comforting presence and hope to these persons in need. They make them see God’s love in their difficult situation. Rene writes, “Our neighbors know, without a doubt, we are present on behalf of Christ” (The Family Apostolate, Vol. 3, Issue 9, p.28).
The voices of the members of Saint Vincent de Paul today represent the voices of Moses and the prophets. Abraham says to us, “Let them listen to them.” Do we heed such invitation? Does it make us change our position about helping the poor and the needy? Does it make us to recognize the plight of those who are not as privileged as we are? Can we move from our comfort positions even when it doesn’t feel like it is what we love doing? The rich man lamented about his brothers, “Lest they too come to this place of torment.” I’m sure we don’t want to end up where the rich man is for our selfishness. Christ invites us once again today, “Whatso ever you do to the least of my people. That you do unto me.” Pick up a copy of the Family Apostolate magazine if you haven’t and take a look at that image on the cover again. Read Rene’s article, that might change something in you. The man on the cover page of that magazine holds an inscription that says, “You did it to me.” Ask yourself this question as you depart this church today, “How many Lazaruses do I pass on my way on daily basis? What can I do to help these Lazaruses. Remember, you are doing it for Christ.