Lazarus and the Rich Man
26th Sunday Ordinary Time
September 25, 2016
This Sunday we read one of the more disturbing passages of the New Testament (Luke 16:19-31), a parable of a rich man and a poor one. The rich man has traditionally been called “Dives” (Latin for “rich”); the poor man’s name is given to us--Lazarus.
Look at this description of Lazarus! He is covered with sores… so he would have been smelly, messy, and ugly. Most people would be afraid to go near him. He has only street dogs for company. He is a beggar. People of that era would have thought him a great sinner, since he had to suffer so much, but how wrong this judgment is! Then Lazarus dies and goes to judgment.
Now let’s take a look at “Dives,” the rich guy. He eats fine foods every day; he dresses in such a way that everyone knows how wealthy he is. Most importantly, he has a habit of deliberately avoiding the needs of others he could help, even when it is staring him in the face. He is well thought of in his community, and people no doubt bowed to him when he approached. When he died, he must have had a fine funeral with many accolades.
But things are not always as they appear to be in this world or the next. Lazarus’ sufferings are actually a blessing from God. Lazarus dies and goes straight to heaven. And as for Dives, even while they are lauding him at the funeral, he is already in a place of torment and flames. In one moment, death has changed everything: the selfish man, who did not share or even notice the poor, lost everything. The poor beggar, who had nothing in this world, in one instant, gained everything! Why did this happen? What was Dives’ sin?
The sin was not in being rich per se; rather, this “rich” man was totally absorbed in his own wealth, his own world. He didn’t ignore the beggar just once, but habitually. This man had the means to help others; he had the obligation to help others, and he did not. We call this in Catholic tradition a sin of omission.
Obviously, the Lord is not calling us to give to every beggar with a sign at a freeway off ramp, but am I a person of generosity? God has given me a share of wealth, time, and gifts. Do I share them with others or am I selfish? Am I aware of the needs of those god has placed in my path today?
The real message of this parable is that we are creating our own eternity with every choice we make. We are not here simply to eat good foods, be entertained, and amass a fortune. No, all that we have is on loan to us, so that God may observe how we use what we have. Our choices in this world will determine our place in the next. Armed with this valuable knowledge, we have a better idea of how to profitably live our lives and make wise choices that will benefit us – and others – forever!