Wow! What actually is the intention of Jesus telling this vivid and colorful story of Dives, the rich man, and Lazarus, the poor man? There was NO POSITIVE co-relationship of actions between the act of the rich man and Lazarus to have sent the former to hell and later to heaven!
Nevertheless, the INACTION OR INDIFFERENCE of the rich man was enough reason for the difference in their final destinations. The rich man neither did good nor evil to Lazarus; he was indifferent to the plight of Lazarus.
Remember the scraps eaten by Lazarus were though known to the man but were not a conscious gift to Lazarus instead the rich man was not just interested in what happened to the scraps of food from his table.
Thus there was no condemnation for any action of the rich man rather there was condemnation for the rich man’s inaction or neglect which is described as the sin of omission.
The Gospel according to St. Luke is fond of rich man-poor man analogies. He is always very much interested in showing us that our inheritance of the kingdom doesn’t come necessarily because one is a Jew or Gentile rather as a consequence of human actions of detachment from materialism, service to humanity, righteousness of life, care for the sick and the needy.
Thus in his narratives he shows how people left everything to follow Jesus; others keep their money, but use it to support Jesus’ mission and his livelihood. Luke admires the tax collector who gave half his goods to the poor. In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke talks about how the communities shared everything in common (Act. 1.42).
What we can see here is a recurring decimal showing that possessions are not bad in themselves. What is good or bad is how they are used.
Jesus is always countercultural and turns around the normal order of things. Lazarus is today described as pitiful. He seems to be a cripple and covered with sores. Hebrews would have called the man impure and believed that he was being punished by God for some sin.
He has no status in this society and certainly cannot work for a living. To make matters worse he couldn’t even stop the dogs from coming and licking his sores. Dogs were hanging around tables at a meal because when the guests were invited to a feast, they would use bread to wipe their plates or their hands and then toss it under the table.
Naturally, this would draw the dogs who would clean up the floor by eating what had been dropped from the table. This is the food that Lazarus longed to have so he could survive. After the death of both the rich man and Lazarus, the latter was carried off by angels to the bosom of Abraham, meaning the place of honor, but the rich man was not carried off.
Today’s story is a cautionary tale and exhortation to those who have been greatly blessed by way of comfort, but who are in the state of social blindness and insensitivity to both the needs of others and to genuine justice.
The prophet Amos speaks about the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel as a reason of the failure of the most blessed and wealthy of Israel to care for their needier countrymen. These nations had rulers who were idle, insensitive to the need of the poor and lived in luxury.
The rulers slept on extravagant beds that were inlaid with ivory panels. They ate the most costly food, including calves that had been raised on milk alone, thus making the meat very tender.
During meals, they listened to idle songs to the sound of the harp, drinking wine not with cups but with bowls. Over and above all this, they anointed themselves with the finest oils. May we too be warned against greed, personal irresponsibility, and thoughtlessness about the good of others.
Thus the rich who overlook the poor, government leaders who fail to regulate the financial industry or to enforce the law; corporate investors along with many small-time investors looking for an excessive profit; landlords who give excessive charge for rent; mortgage lenders who knowingly approved loans to those reasonably unable to pay e.t.c, it is to us in our own generation that Amos preaches! It is to us that Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is addressed. The Gospel obligation to care for the needy is absolute and unavoidable.
Even the needy are expected to share among themselves. But, the moral of the story in both Amos’ text and in Jesus’ parable is that there will be profound and dire consequences for neglecting our needy neighbors.
We ought to note that society is by definition social such that social justice and social services are crucial for the true name of our society. Let us be thoughtful and brave, full of cooperative zeal.
Let us not retreat into fearful selfishness and self-destruction. Let us, rather, boldly be just, foresighted, intelligent and generous. While rebuking the people of Israel, Amos condemned the empty ritualism that was an escape from what the covenant really required – ‘Is this not the fast that pleases me says the Lord, ‘sharing your food with the hungry and sheltering the homeless poor’ (Is 58:6-7).
This also extends not just to material assistance but every aspect of life. Our neighbors have also emotional and spiritual needs, to which true followers of Jesus will respond in friendship and concern.
In the days of Jesus, it was understood that Jewish landowners were Yahweh’s tenants (Lev. 25:23) The landowner owed “taxes” to God’s representatives who are the poor.
And they were expected to share the land with them in the form of assistance (Mic. 2:9; Is. 58:7; Neh. 5:1-19). Following this custom, the rich man was obligated to take care of Lazarus, ensuring that his basic needs were met. But this was not forthcoming. We are not told that he shouted at him, or abused him in any way. Rather, he is guilty of not having done anything to alleviate the needy.
Similarly, in the first reading the prophet castigates the rich in Israel not so much for their ivory seats or golden vessels, but for their neglect of the ruin of Joseph. By Joseph, Amos means “their poor brothers and sisters, fellow Israelites.” We recall in the book of Genesis how the sons of Jacob sold their brother Joseph in slavery, insensitive to his plea for mercy and to his misery. The rich in their revelry forget that the poor are their own flesh and blood.
Sometimes we may feel justified even before the need of others. We may argue to ourselves that we worked hard for what we have. We owe nothing to anyone.
We have not offended anyone. Besides, we could not help the whole world even if we wanted. We should ask ourselves if we do enough to respond to the need of others. We pray that we may not be like the brothers of the rich man, who would not listen even to a person from the underworld, but that we may be moved to action by the word of God which urges us to charity. Remember, whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers that you do unto me (Mt. 25:40).
Join Sunday homily with Rev. Fr. Anacletus Ogbunkwu on www.anacletus ogbunkwu.com