In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us a parable about a rich man and a poor man. In earthly life, the rich man lives in comfort while the poor man is sick and dying of hunger. However, this state of affair changes when the two die. It’s now rich who begins to suffer while the poor man is happy in the bosom of Abraham. Why such turn of things?
- First Reading: Amos 6:1, 4–7
- Second Reading: 1 Timothy 6: 11–16
- Gospel: Luke 16: 19–31
When I close my eyes on the misery of my neighbour
In search of meaning
This parable may pose some difficulty in understanding it, especially that it may provoke many questions. What and why does the rich man suffer? And why does the poor man find happiness? Is the rich man punished for being wealthy? Or is lacking of necessities of life a virtue that buys you a direct ticket to heaven? What could be the message of the parable?
It’s good to remember that we are dealing with a parable, and not a court case that lawyers will have to scrutinise to establish some truth. By such approach to the parable we risk losing ourselves in futility and miss the message. Perhaps identifying some punch line would help us to remain focused. See how the Gospel or the parable ends.
The parable ends in a response to the rich man’s request. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to go and warn his brothers. Abraham replies: “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.”
Are the readings of today not dealing with hard hearted people who, enclosed in the pleasures of their wealth, ignore the word of God which calls for change of heart, especially care for the poor? Let’s see a bit closely.
The rich who neglect the poor
In the First Reading Amos speaks strongly against the rich of his society, Samaria, who care not for the poor. When things are bad in Zion they enjoy the comfort of ivory beds, eat fine and tender lambs, idle in beautiful music, drink choice wines, and perfume themselves with finest oils. There you get an impression of an accomplished person; he has done his work and what remains is just to enjoy. Yet the manner Amos speaks of the rich, reinforced by the suffering of the rich man in the Gospel, may leave us with a sour taste as if being rich was a curse.
Remember, certain rich people have come from very far; from sweat of hard work. Why can’t they take their time to enjoy the fruit of their labour? Amos and Jesus would not be against.
Nevertheless, here Amos is talking about the persons who have become rich by making others poor, they become wealthy by exploiting the misery of others. They exploit them with hard, long hours of work but pay them coins. The rich sell their grain at high price but with altered scales. It’s the poor, miserable persons, who shoulder the luxury of the rich. That’s what Amos denounces. Unfortunately, it’s not history. Even today many are the rich who ride on the backs of the poor.
But I have done nothing!
One would say, in the Gospel the rich man has done nothing. No oppression, no immorality –he has done nothing wrong. In fact, at times we also want to exculpate ourselves by saying we have done nothing. But does having done nothing mean we are innocent? We confess for what we have done as well as for not doing what we ought to have done -sin of omission. Rightly, the rich man did nothing wrong. But Lazarus was at his door, he ignored him. He was hungry he didn’t give him to eat, sick he didn’t take care of him. His sin does not consist in what he did but in what he didn’t do. He wrapped himself up in his own luxury; he didn’t care about those who needed help.
I create my own heaven or hell
Jesus, like Amos, spoke for the poor. He pleaded for good treatment of sinners, widows and orphans. The people knew what the law required them to do –but they ignored it. They were concerned about their titles, their power and their wealth. So he gave them the parable to arouse their attention to what they should be doing. Jesus sounds the alarm of warning by painting the suffering of the rich man.
Certainly Jesus is not describing hell neither is he there to threaten us. The rich man is not punished by God either. Perhaps Jesus is describes the impasse in which this man finds himself by his own action or omission. He led his life cut off from God and others; he didn’t share what he had, he didn’t help those in need. He had created for himself an inhuman world, where there’s no love. He erected a wall that would prevent help coming to him. No matter how rich you may be, cut off from others –you put yourself on the road to hell. In fact, how many people in the midst of luxury end their lives in a tragic way! In a way, by our action today we create our own tomorrow; either heaven or hell.
No one from the dead will come
Moses and the prophets culminate in Jesus. He sounds the warning. Do I want to be hard hearted like the rich of the First Reading? Do I want to be adamant like the Pharisees? Let’s listen to Jesus and change the way we live. Let’s open our heart to those who suffer. Let’s not look far to find a dirty Lazarus; any person close to me in need of help is Lazarus. Yes, Jesus calls us to break the wall between the rich and the poor. He wants the rich and the poor to communicate. He wants us to hear and listen to the cries of those who suffer. He wants us to spare the time to look and see how the person next to me suffers.
I have a wall to break down.
It’s a call to each person to check, who is that person in need that I ignore? If I want someone to come and refresh my tongue with a drop of water, it’s time I broke down the wall that separates me from God and others. It’s high time I listened to prophets God sends me.