The Rich Man and Lazarus Luke 16:19-31
The Jews in Jesus’ time believed that earthly riches signified favor from God while material poverty was considered to be punishment from God or a curse brought down on an individual. Imagine the anger and indignation of the Pharisees when Jesus, as he often did, turns the story “upside down.” It is the poor, starving beggar, Lazarus, whose name means “helped by God, who enjoys his heavenly reward in “the bosom of Abraham” while the rich man is consigned to everlasting torment in the netherworld.
However, we would be mistaken in believing that this passage speaks against success, wealth or comfort. Yet, it does ask us if the wealth, success and comfort which we possess has led to complacency, selfishness or blind elitism. The rich man is not condemned for the assets he possesses but for lacking compassion. Day after day Lazarus was lying outside the rich man’s door hoping for a scrap of food, but to the rich man he was simply invisible. He never really saw Lazarus as a human being who deserved to be treated with dignity; he is judged not for anything he did but by what he failed to do, see the need of another and respond.
The Latin word that we translate as “mercy” means “to have a heart for those in misery.” This parable is really urging us toward mercy NOW. Who is it who is at OUR door now that we do not notice? Who is the one that I ignore or refuse to help with my time and my resources? It is interesting to note that Lazarus is the only one in all of Jesus’ parables that is actually given a name. The rich man goes unnamed perhaps to remind us that he stands for anyone.
We have much to learn from the poor. Mother Teresa, now St. Teresa of Calcutta told the following story in her 1979 Nobel Prize acceptance speech. One evening we went out and picked up four people in the street. One of them was in horrible condition. I told the sisters: “You take care of the other three; I will take care of the one who looks worse.” So I did for her all that my love can do. I put her in a bed and there was such a beautiful smile on her face. She took hold of my hand as she said one thing only: “Thank you.” And then she died. I could not help but examine my conscience before her. And I asked: “What would I say if I were in her place?” And my answer was very simple. I would have tried to draw a little attention to myself. I would have said: “I am hungry, I am dying, I am cold, I am in pain” or something. But she gave me much more, she gave me her grateful love. And she died with a smile on her face.
How foolish some of what we seek is when seen in the light of God’s time. Let us pray for deeper understanding of the truth that when we separate ourselves from our neighbors, we separate ourselves from God. Let us prepare our hearts to meet welcome the Lazarus in our daily lives.
Sister Diane Forrest, O.P.