Amos 6:1a, 4-7; 1 Tim 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31
A pastor stood up one Sunday and announced to his congregation: “I have good news and bad news. The good news is we have enough money for our apostolate for the poor and the homeless. The bad news is it’s still out there in your pockets.”
(The story is from an unknown author)
In today’s gospel Jesus tells the “Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus”. Commentators are quick to point out that while the poor man is called Lazarus, the rich man is not named, suggesting the gospel writer’s preference and care for the poor. Tradition would later call the rich man “Dives”, which really is the Latin word for “rich” or “wealthy”.
In Mediterranean culture, to be rich means to live comfortably without the burden of having to work for a living. Rich people would have hired hands to do their work or business. The rich man in the parable enjoys these privileges: Every day he wears the finest clothes and eats delicious meals. In contrast, to be poor is to lose one’s fundamental dignity and rights. The poor would include widows, orphans, little children, lepers, shepherds, etc. The parable describes Lazarus as a “poor man” who lay prostrate at the rich man’s gate. He is covered with sores and the dogs would repeatedly come to lick them.
Bible scholars explain that the reversal of fortune that happens at the end of the parable is quite common in ancient stories. The poor who suffers “bad things” while on earth will be consoled in the next life; the rich who enjoys privileged circumstances will be tormented. Yet, Jesus’ parable is enlightening because somehow it shows the reason for the radical reversal of status.
The rich man loses his soul in the next life not because of his wealth but of his total lack of concern for Lazarus. While living in affluence on earth, he never cared to share his surplus to the needy.
In a way, this parable teaches that our state in the afterlife would be determined by the way we respond to the needs of the poor person lying at our doorstep now. The rich among us should very well consider the advice of Saint Paul: “Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life” (1 Tim 6:17-19).
Today is the right moment to bridge whatever gap that exists between ourselves and those in need. After death the chasm is impassable, and our eternal destiny is set. As a matter of irony, the poor are our best hope for salvation. If they become visible to us, we can hope to achieve what is of inestimable value.
A king with no heirs invited qualified young people to be interviewed, with a view to succeeding him. A poverty-stricken young man felt an inner call to apply. He worked day and night to buy provisions for the journey and clothes for the interview. After weeks of travel, he came to the king’s palace. Sitting at the entrance was a beggar in dirty rags, calling out, “Help me, my son!” filled with pity, the young man gave the beggar his good clothes and the money he had saved for his return trip. Then, with fearful heart, he entered the palace. When he was escorted into the throne room, he was shocked. Seated on the throne was the beggar, wearing the clothes he had just given him. The king smiled and said, “Welcome, my son!”
(The story is from Challenge 2000 by Mark Link)