The Gospel presented us with the story of the rich man and Lazarus. This parable is found only in the Gospel of Luke. The Lucan Gospel has noticeable concern for the care of the poor in the society. We recall that in narrating the beatitudes, while the Gospel of Matthew had Jesus saying “blessed are the poor in spirit”, theirs is the kingdom of heaven; the Lucan Gospel stated that, “blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
The Gospel recounted a story about a rich man who wore purple, (purple in ancient world was expensive, hence only royals and wealthy individuals could afford it), and fine linen, and feasted magnificently every day; and in front of his gate lay a sick beggar called Lazarus, who longed to feed from the crumbs that fell from his table. However, the rich man took no notice of him. When their earthly dwelling came to an end, Lazarus found himself being comforted in the bosom of Abraham whereas the rich man languished in hell.
One may ask, what wrong did the rich man do that he was condemned? We were not told that the rich man chased Lazarus away from his gate nor sent the dogs that licked his sores. Neither were we told that Lazarus begged for food from him. The rich man was condemned not because of what he did, but because of what he failed to do.
In the ‘I Confess’ prayer we recite, “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do; through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault….” Hence, he was found guilty of the sin of OMISSION.
In the first reading, (Amos 6:1, 4-7), Amos prophesied of severe consequences for the rich who live extravagantly but did nothing to alleviate the plight of the people at the margin of the society. He said woe to those who sleep on a bed made of ivory, who feed on lambs and calves, listen to wild music and anoint themselves with expensive ornaments while turning blind eyes to the “ruin of Joseph.” Prophet Amos warned that they will be the first to be exiled and their partying will be short lived.
The hymn ‘We are Many Parts’ by Marty Haugen captures the essence of the messages in the First Reading and the Gospel of today. Part of the lyric reads, “We are many parts, but we are one body, the gifts we have, we have been given to share.” The rich man should have allowed some of his “goodies” to flow to Lazarus. He should have been his brother’s keeper. Similarly, each person is being called upon to be mindful of the Lazarus of our day. Today’s Lazarus would include the homeless, the refugees, drug and alcohol addicts.
As we celebrate Social Justice Sunday, may we continue to fight for the eradication of structural injustices in the world and for better understanding of the systematic causes of poverty in the world.
Was Lazarus rewarded with the beatific vision after his death merely because he was poor? We were not told in the parable that he was a good man or that he espoused any extra-ordinary virtues. If he was rewarded with the beatific vision in the next life only because he was poor, then it would be a mere reversal of roles. However, that was not the case. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is the only parable of Jesus where a subject in the story was identified by name. Thus, the meaning of the name is integral to understanding the parable. The name Lazarus is derived from the Hebrew name Eleazar which means, “God has helped”, or “God is my helper”. Thus, Lazarus went to heaven because of his faith and trust in God, not merely because of his poverty.
Everyone, poor or rich, is called to repentance and everyone – rich and poor is acceptable to God, for anyone who does the will of God shall be saved.
Another aspect of the Gospel that I would like to bring to your awareness is that eternal life and eternal punishment are not mere figments of the mind but are real. Let us model our lives based on the revelations contained in the bible and eternal life will be ours. We must not wait for more apparitions from the yonder world before we amend our lives. The Lord has already given us the greatest apparition – the incarnation of his only Begotten Son! The rich man wanted his siblings to witness more apparitions to enable them to repent of their sins, but he was reminded by patriarch Abraham that God’s revelations are contained in the Scriptures and following the wise counsels contained in the Scriptures lead to beatific vision.
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp