SUNDAY C26 Luke 16:19–31
As usual you can hear the sermon here but this time there are two versions with one from the 11.00 am and the other from the 12.30 pm Mass.
I love reading history, especially ancient history. From that reading I have learnt that people do not change. The wealthy two thousand years ago behaved much as the wealthy today. Often the more we have the more indifferent we are to those who have not. Christ is not indifferent. He measures our love for Him by our love for others especially those who are in need.
The rich man is this parable is not just wealthy. Purple is an ordinary colour to us but at that time it was extremely expensive and associated with the Emperor in Rome. So this man was in the highest class of wealthy. Imagine his gated home surrounded by gardens, full of marble, mosaic floors, walls covered with colourful frescoes and many statues and works of art. He wears fine linen and dines on the best of food everyday. Imagine the expensive ingredients in his food, the rare perfumes in his house and the costly fabrics of his furnishings of his household. A man of his wealth and standing would own many slaves, always available to serve him. This man lives very well, better than most even today. Note that he is not accused of any wrongdoing other than his failure to care for Lazarus. It seems his only sins are his pride and indifference to the poverty at his door. He is without mercy and devoid of compassion and we may fairly accuse him of greed for greed and avarice lead to the loss of charity and compassion.
In contrast there is Lazarus, sick and starving, whose only friends are the hungry, mangy dogs in the street. They alone have compassion on him and tend his sores. The Jews had a horror of skin diseases which they associated with leprosy and so Lazarus is literally shunned like a leper. Like the Prodigal Son Lazarus is so hungry that he longs to eat the slops from the rich man’s table but he is offered nothing. The rich man could’ve done something but he chose not to. He could’ve sent a servant or arranged with someone to help Lazarus but he didn’t. He did nothing. This was his sin, a sin of omission.
Note too that he is nameless. Our Lord does not name him because his name is not written in Heaven. We have our humanity as a gift, something that we are to unfold, unwrap and explore, to make grow and deepen through loving care for others. Love is not a feeling it is an act of your will, a choice to treat another person as a good in themselves, to give oneself to them in service. To choose not to serve, not to care is to choose to become less human and in the end to become inhuman and therefore nameless before God. We earn our names in Heaven by our compassion and care for those in need, especially those who cannot pay us back.
Abraham, the father of the Jewish people and all the righteous, was a just and hospitable man, compassionate to the poor. He was a man of faith who sacrificed financial security in this world because of his faith in God and his hope of future, everlasting security in Heaven. It was he who haggled with God to try to save Sodom from destruction. Both men die but it is Lazarus who ends up in the ‘bosom of Abraham’ while the rich man ends up in Hell. The ‘bosom of Abraham’ may refer to Heaven or to that place where the just awaited the resurrection of Christ. Lazarus is consoled and soothed but the heartless rich man is immersed in fire and cannot escape. Yet he remains unchanged by his torment. He is suffering for his pride, greed and lack of compassion but remains as proud and indifferent to Lazarus as always. This is what he has made of himself.
In his arrogance the rich man still calls Abraham ‘father’ and expects that Lazarus will be treated like a servant sent to do his bidding. Yet there is malice here too. He does not ask to be removed from the fire and to be allowed to join Lazarus but that Lazarus be sent to serve him in his torment. Abraham explains the reality to him. He has made his bed in Hell and now he must lie in it for all eternity. He is suffering for wasting his wealth on himself, for being mastered by his appetites and for being without compassion while Lazarus, who did no wrong, who did not curse, who did not even resent the rich man, is granted everlasting consolation.
The Fathers take the ‘five brothers’ to mean the five senses. Wealth and comfort can seduce us into materialism and its spouse atheism. We can grow indifferent to the needs of others and even to our eternal salvation. How often do those we mock the things of God and ignore the moral law that one ought to care for those in need? Moses and the prophets warned about the demands of the moral law and what awaits those who ignore it. Wealth, if it is not put at the service of charity, is a trap for the careless soul. The rich man was enslaved to his senses and so lost his freedom in eternity. Lazarus remained poor but free in this world and so won his freedom in Heaven. By rejecting the warning of ‘Moses and the prophets’ we are rejecting Christ too.
Christ is the true rich man who has made himself utterly poor for our sakes for He left the wealth of Heaven to enter our spiritual poverty on Earth. He comes to us not only in Holy Communion, though that is, by far, the greatest of His gifts to us, but He comes to us also in the poor. He is the poor man who sits at our doorsteps and on our streets. He hides the wounds of the Cross under those of addiction and poverty. He suffers in all who are poor, needy or abandoned, from the child in the womb to the old person dying alone, from the poorest of the poor in Africa to those unjustly imprisoned. What we do to them we do to Him.
Compared to so many people in our world we are rich. We have a low crime rate, a huge variety of food in our shops, heating, light and a health care system, good schools and so many other amenities. Yes we pay for them but they are luxuries beyond imagining to most of humanity. There are families in some parts of the World today where their annual income is about €100. Here in Ireland there are 228 people homeless in Dublin alone and yet how many houses and apartments lie idle? We deplore this fact but how many of us have called or written to our elected representatives to complain about this situation?
We are faced with this choice: either we serve the world or God, wealth or good. Christ demands of us that we care for those in need. He expects us to use what we have on Earth to invest in Heaven by looking after others, firstly among our family, friends and neighbours but among strangers as well. As St Ephrem said “we cannot hope for pardon at the end unless the fruits of pardon can be seen in us.” Show your faith and the work of God’s grace through charity to those who are poor and struggling. The rich man got no mercy because he showed none. You will receive from God in accord with how you have given. If you want to show sorrow for your wrongdoing look after the poor and needy. You will not have to look far to find them. Go further than money. Volunteer your time, offer to fundraise, search for things to do for those in need and you will find plenty to do.
The rich man did not hold faith with Lazarus, his fellow Jew, in his suffering and poverty on Earth so he could not share with him in his blessedness and good fortune in Heaven. Likewise we too cannot share in the blessedness of Heaven if we ignore those who are in need here on Earth.