Homily on the 26th Sunday- C
What parable would make a man with three doctoral degrees, one in medicine, one in theology, one in philosophy, leaving behind civilization with all its culture and facilities and depart for the jungles of darkest Africa? What parable could induce a man so much, who was recognized as one of the best concert organists in all Europe, to go to a place where there were no organs to play? What parable would so intensely motivate a man that he would give up a teaching position in Vienna, Austria to go to help people who were so deprived that they were still living in the superstitions of the dark ages, for all practical purposes? The man of course was Dr. Albert Schweitzer who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953. The single parable that so radically transformed his life, was our gospel story for this Sunday, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. That parable convinced Schweitzer that the rich, Europe, should share its riches with the poor Africa. In order to do that he did not publish books rather he started the process with his own good example. He says, we have to change the title for this parable from the rich man and Lazarus to “The Punishment of the Man Who Never Noticed.” Lazarus was at his door and he didn’t notice. Who is at our door that we don’t notice? Jesus wants us to see better—to see more clearly.
This story is presented as a one act play with two scenes. The opening scene presents the luxurious life of the rich man in costly dress, enjoying five course meals every day, in contrast to the miserable life of the poor and sick beggar living in the street by the rich man’s front door, competing with street dogs for the crumbs and bites from the rich man’s garbage can. As the curtain goes up for the second scene, the situation is reversed. The beggar Lazarus is enjoying Heavenly bliss 500 million times better than the rich man’s luxurious life as a reward for his fidelity to God in his poverty and suffering, while the rich man is thrown down into the excruciating suffering of Hell as a punishment for not doing his duty of showing mercy to the poor by sharing with the less fortunate.
After reading this parable we might mistakenly jump into two wrong conclusion. 1). Being just a poor person is a guarantee to go to heaven. Absolutely not!!! Now, why did Lazarus go to heaven? After all we are not told that he was a man of God or that he did a single good deed. Yes we are. In biblical stories of this nature, names are very significant because they often convey the person’s basic character or personality. In fact this is the only parable of Jesus where the character in the story has a name. So the name must be significant for interpreting the parable. The name “Lazarus” is the Hellenized form of the Hebrew name “Eleazar” which means “God is my help.” St. Paul in his letter to Philippians 4 5-7 says: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”. Lazarus, therefore, is not just a poor man, but a poor man who believes and trusts in God. This must be why he found himself in Abraham’s bosom in Paradise — because of his faith and trust in God, not just because he was poor. Poor people who spend their lives in bitterness and envy, refusing to believe and trust in God as Lazarus did may yet again suffer in the next life.
On the other hand being a rich person doesn’t buy a one way ticket to hell. Wealth is not bad. After all, Abraham was wealthy. St. Katharine Drexel, St. Louis, the king of France, St. Elizabeth of Hungry, St. Thomas Moore, and St. Ignatius of Loyola all were wealthy. But wealth brings with it certain responsibilities, a certain stewardship. We will give an accounting for how we handle the wealth God has given us. Of course, in the USA, even the poorest enjoys a lifestyle far above a huge slice of the world’s population. We all will give an accounting!
Why was the rich man punished? He did not drive neither the poor beggar from his doorway or he did not forbidden him from sharing the discarded crumbs and leftovers from his table. The Fathers of the Church find three responsible mistakes he makes: a) He filed to practice the 7 corporal works of Mercy!!He neglected the poor beggar at his door by not helping him to treat his illness or giving him a small house to live in. b) He failed to read his Bible and the teachings of the church. He ignored the teachings of the Sacred Scriptures kept on his table reminding him of Yahweh’s commandment in the book of Leviticus (15: 7-11) “Don’t deny help to the poor. Be liberal in helping the widows and the homeless.” He didn’t read the bible or practice it. c) He was a modern day Gentleman who didn’t even know his neighbor. He led a life of luxury and self-indulgence totally ignoring the poor people around him, with Cain’s attitude: “Am I the guardian of my brother?” It is not wrong to be rich, but it is wrong not to share our blessings with our less fortunate brothers and sisters.
The lessons taught: 1.Very basic Catholic teaching and lesson! There is going to be heaven and hell and where we going to spend eternity depends on how we are leading this life. 2. Some people say that I am not that religious and if God wants me to be religious he need to come down and perform mighty deeds. It’s not going to happen. We are given bible and teachings of the church and examples of the saints! And that’s it!!!
Message to take home!! Poverty deals with more than the lack of money and food. Some people are poor in confidence, and need someone to encourage them. Some people are poor in the awareness of their talents and need someone to open their eyes. Some people are blind to their goodness and uniqueness and need someone to believe in them. Some people are poor in love and need someone to listen to them and care about them. We are all called to help the poor, called to enrich one another. Even if we have not a penny in our pocket, we are here because we are rich in faith, rich in the things that money can’t buy. Let us be grateful, and share our riches – as God does –
The name Lazarus means God is my help. Despite a life of misfortune and suffering, Lazarus did not lose hope in God. His eyes were set on a treasure stored up for him in heaven.