The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus
I read this story of a businessman in Midwest, USA, who had anonymously given away more than $600 million to universities, medical centers, charitable institutions and other beneficiaries for more than fifteen years. When on account of some legal proceedings his identity was known, a friend described him as a man who does not even own a house or a car, flies economy class and wears a $15 wristwatch. He explained his generosity in plain words by saying: “I decided I had enough money and I thought it best to share it for the good of many who could not benefit from it. Anyway when we die, we cannot bring anything to heaven.” He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. This is contrary to the rich man in today’s gospel whose concern is his fine clothes and feasts everyday.
Today’s gospel parable of Lazarus and the rich man Jesus paints a dramatic scene of contrasts: riches and poverty, heaven and hell, compassion and indifference, inclusion and exclusion. We also see an abrupt and dramatic reversal of fortune. Lazarus which means, ‘God is my help,’ was not only poor, but also incapacitated because he was brought at the gates of the rich man’s house. The dogs which licked his sores probably also stole the little bread he procured for himself. Dogs in the ancient world symbolized contempt. Enduring the torment of these savage dogs only added to the poor man’s miseries and sufferings. The rich man treated the beggar with contempt and indifference, until he found his fortunes reversed.
At the end of their lives Lazarus was in the bosom of Abraham, not because he was poor and incapacitated, but because he did not lose hope in God. His eyes were set on a treasure stored up for him in heaven.
While the rich man when he died was in torment in the netherworld, why? Actually he did not molest Lazarus; he was in torment not because luxury is evil. He was in torment because, like many of us, he did nothing so that the life of Lazarus will become better; he did nothing about the rights of the poor and did not extend help to them; he was in apathy and indifference. He failed to see beyond self and earthly existence. He did not take wealth as God’s gift and that its true value is not in keeping it for self alone but in using it for the benefit of others. He could not see beyond his material treasure. He lost sight of God and the treasure of heaven because he was preoccupied with seeking happiness in material things. He served wealth rather than God. In other words, he committed the sin of omission. According to the 1917 edition of Catholic Encyclopaedia that sin of omission is said to be the failure to do something one can and ought to do. It is not merely because a person here and now does nothing that he offends but because he neglects to act under circumstances in which he can and ought to act.
At the end let us reflect this story told in the Daily Bread (Sept. 6, 1992). Sam Jones was a preacher who held revival services which he called “quittin’ meetings.” His preaching was directed primarily to Christians and he urged them to give up the sinful practices in their lives. Sam’s messages were very effective and many people promised to quit swearing, drinking, smoking, lying, gossiping or anything else that was displeasing to the Lord.
On one occasion Jones asked a woman, “Just what is it that you’re quittin’?” She replied, “I’m guilty of not doing something and I’m going to quit doing that too!” Even though she had no bad habits to give up, she wasn’t actively living to please God.