The Rich Man and Lazarus

A really great Gospel last Sunday, one of those parables that really stands out and you tend to remember. Some of the Early Church Fathers considered it a part of the two brother pattern which is evident throughout Scripture and related the rich man to Israel and the poor man Lazarus to the Church.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his book Jesus of Nazareth, emphasises the motif of the suffering just man from the Psalms (specifically, 44 & 73) which is part of an Old Testament tradition of questioning why the wicked man prospers, and explaining his unhappy reality. He cannot understand the Word of God, from whence true happiness comes.

The Pope then shows us another, even deeper dimension to this parable, one which I have marked in my copy of Jesus of Nazareth and often return to. This is the rich man’s request for someone from the dead to warn his brothers – pointing in the end to Jesus Himself who will rise from the dead, the sign of Jonah. The rich man's begging for more evidence of Revelation is an issue that runs through the whole Gospel. Abraham's answer in the parable, like Jesus' answer to His contemporaries' demand for signs in other contexts is clear: If people do not believe the Word of Scripture, then they will not believe someone coming from the next world either. The highest truths cannot be forced into the type of empirical evidence that only applies to material reality. The message is clear, and the Pope reinforces his point by drawing a parallel with Heb 13:12: God's sign for men is the Son of Man; it is Jesus Himself. And at the deepest level, He is this sign in His Paschal Mystery, in the mystery of of His death and Resurrection.

Father Kevin brought his own perspective to this Gospel on Sunday, and I felt his insight was extremely valuable, personal and honest. Here is it for your edification:

I have been in Rome several times this year for different events and if you think there are lots of homeless poor people begging on the streets of London, then Rome is something else.  It’s impossible to enter or exit any church in the City without being assailed by beggars waiting on the steps.  If you are wearing a Roman collar this is even more of a challenge. Sometimes I have given money if I thought they were genuine; but more often I haven’t because I’ve thought that they may just professional beggars, or will use the money for drugs or alcohol. It always make me feel uncomfortable, largely because of the Gospel of this Sunday.  
The fact that it makes me uncomfortable is very good. Jesus is meant to disturb us in this matter especially those of us who relatively well-off.  It’s like that irritant that compels an oyster to produce a beautiful pearl. Sometimes it’s the irritant that gets under our skin, and into our soul that produces something beautiful in us.
St Luke paints a wonderful scene for us, as he so often does, by just a few simple strokes of the brush. He sums up the character of the rich man by giving us a mental picture of his lifestyle. I suppose it would translate in today’s language as someone who was dressed in Armani and ate at the best restaurants in Town.  This man has all the goods in the world, but he is never named; he represents humanity become self-isolated in greed. How easily wealth can isolate us form the world - as St Luke infers - as he is utterly indifferent to the beggar, whom he has to almost step-over in order to get to his house. Perhaps he is as unnerving as those beggars outside the Roman churches.  
Reflecting on this reminded me that it was three years ago this week that Pope Emeritus Benedict was in our country; and its important that we don’t forget the legacy of that visit to us, and of the challenge he gave us. Standing in the opulence of Westminster Hall he addressed statesmen and diplomats:
In recent years it has been encouraging to witness the positive signs of a worldwide growth in solidarity towards the poor. But to turn this solidarity into effective action calls for fresh thinking that will improve life conditions in many important areas, such as food production, clean water, job creation, education, support to families, especially migrants, and basic healthcare. Where human lives are concerned, time is always short: yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon fail.
St Augustine says that the rich man wasn’t excluded from heaven because of his wealth; rather, it was because he did not know how to share: Lazarus, he says, was received into Heaven because of his humility and not because of his poverty.   Wealth itself was not what kept the rich man from eternal bliss.  His punishment was for selfishness and disloyalty.  St Gregory makes a similar comment when he says: When we tend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours.  More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.
In his farewell speech to Pope Benedict at Birmingham Airport, the Prime Minister cleverly quoted Blessed John Henry Newman, Beatified that morning, who wrote that:  One little deed whether by someone who helps “to relieve the sick and needy” or someone who “forgives an enemy” evinces more true faith than could be shown by “the most fluent religious conversation” or the most intimate knowledge of Scripture.” 
Our Blessed Lord did not come to earth to inaugurate a political system, or to initiate a new regime; but he came to call sinners to repentance and establish the Kingdom of God in our midst.  This is revolutionary in itself.  The Holy Father has reminded us that we cannot reduce the mission of the Church simply to earthly values; the Church is the Mystery of Christ among us; Her primary mission is the salvation of souls.
In the Gospel the rich man could have reached out to Lazarus; that would have got him out of Hell, by a generous outreach; and that was why the poor man was there to give the rich man the opportunity to get out of the torment of his self-isolation. That’s the challenge. Why are those beggars so consistently outside the church doors?  Perhaps so that I can find a way out of Hell! So that I have the opportunity in reaching out to them of breaking out of my own tendency to selfish isolation. Maybe ask the question next time we have the opportunity to help someone in a concrete way; why has God given me the wealth I have? Why has God placed that person right on my doorstep in that unnerving way? Then I think the power of this Gospel will be felt even more.
Learn from Mary, whose abundant gifts and graces, she shared, because she knew they were given to her for the benefit of all mankind.
Sculpture at San Lázaro church, Palencia. (PalenciaSpain): Lazarus, by David Perez


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