September 25, 2022 at Saint Agnes, St William, & St. Peter Parishes in Naples, FL
Amos 6, 1, 4-7 + Psalm 146 + 1 Timothy 6,11-16 + Luke 16:19-31
This is a complex and troubling parable. I’ve always been disturbed by that man who even after death thinks that Lazarus should serve him. “Send him to my brothers” he says as though nothing has changed. While some may see his concern for his brothers, I find it troubling that he’s only worried about his own family. Oddly, at this point, the rich man has suddenly learned the name of someone he could not see before.
In the context of Luke’s Gospel, the closer we get to the end, to Jerusalem, and the culmination of his ministry, Jesus begins to focus on the poor and the demands of discipleship. Watch how that happens in the weeks to come this fall. We heard it last week as Jesus spoke about the use of “mammon”, a term that literally means “more than you need.” We will hear it again.
We have to remember that the rich man of this Gospel was not responsible for the condition of Lazarus. No more than most of us have consciously added to the poverty of migrants, refugees, and people living in tents or their cars. This parable has nothing to do with causes. It has to do with hunger, human dignity, respect and tenderness. Notice that the wealthy man remains anonymous. He is recognized and defined by his possessions not by his relationships. He failed to discover what the clever steward discovered in last week’s Gospel. He failed to discover the potential of his wealth watching it become worthless in the face of death. On the other hand, Lazarus gets a name. He is real. He is recognizable. He is not alone, and he enjoys the company of great ones like Abraham and the angles who see him and do not look the other way.
Parables like this are not comforting bed-time stories. They are told by Jesus to wake us up to a new perspective. The first sign that we are hearing the message is that it makes us uncomfortable. When we allow that to happen, the next step is to ask ourselves what we are to do about it. One certain sign that we have found a good answer is that there are changes for the better, for everyone and especially for the poor. Jesus did not go around giving people guilt trips, but rather he tries to stretch our imaginations and challenge our creativity over how to bring the dream God has for this world into reality. The issue is not that the wealthy are wealthy. The issue is often how the wealthy achieved that wealth and their unconcern for justice on behalf of those in need.
It is a very observable fact that riches, comforts, and the security those things seem to offer draw one’s attention away from God. How else is it possible that in this rich western world we close churches and have so much room in the pews of those churches that remain open? It is probably not our problem since we are here, but the absence of those others should strengthen our resolve to hold fast to the faith and grow deeper into the mystery of our communion with Christ and each other.
Caring for the poor and even contributing to their aid takes us a step beyond that rich man’s blindness. But prayers and donations do not free us from being trapped behind our doors, gates, and locks like that other rich man. The divine works within the human condition to free all people from whatever binds them. God’s plan with the Incarnation is that our salvation, our hope, our future comes from one like us, one of us.
The truth is, our time is more limited than our resources. Jesus speaks to us today with a serious reminder of that. In this parable, everyone dies, the rich and the poor. We have now, both time and resources, but they are limited. We can learn each other’s names. We can learn each other’s stories. We can face the fact that we all hunger more for compassion, mercy, and forgiveness more than for food.
The parable today shows the double side of hunger. Those who hunger will be satisfied. Those who fail to respond to the hunger of others will one day hunger for compassion and then meet that face of indifference. Hunger affects us all.