The kingdom of God has to do with a struggle against human tendencies and the quest for the right way of living. And what is this right way of living? It does not consist only in the good one does but also in the good he fails to do. Thus the readings today call us to be attentive to the little things we neglect because they count much before God. The first reading presents Amos’ message of woe and a prophetic warning against sin of complacency and indifference. The second reading is St. Paul’s “conscientization” of the young bishop Timothy over the duty attached to his vocation: fidelity to God (through life of witnessing and sound teaching) and care of the flock. The Gospel serves as the foundation of the Church’s teaching on the sin of omission (neglecting the good we ought to do). However, it crowns the whole message of today by opening another horizon, the “eschatos” (the end); whereby the type of life lived here on earth will either attract reward or punishment.
FIRST READING: Amos 6:1, 4-7.
The prophet Amos grieved over the fraternal indifference existing between the people of his time. The message was directed both to the house of Judah (southern kingdom) and the house of Israel (samaria as capital in the northern kingdom). He spoke against an increased disparity between the very wealthy and the very poor. Thus the prophesy of the indifference over the “collapse of Joseph” (in the sense of the little one, the poor one and the suffering) was a reminder to the rich that their attitude towards the poor depicts that of the heartlessness of their forefathers, the sons of Jacob, towards Joseph. They “ate bread” while their brother lay in the pit, and later sold him to Ishmaelites.
Because of the extravagant and luxurious lifestyle of the rich and leaders of the people, having no concern for the suffering of others (which was displeasing in the eyes of Yahweh), the prophet Amos predicted their ruin. Samaria the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel was overtaken by the Assyrians under Sargon II in 722 BC, whereas Jerusalem the capital of Judah was razed to the ground in 587 BC by the army of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. The elites in these cities were led to a humiliating and punishing exile respectively thus fulfilling the prophesy made by Amos in 760-755 BC.
SECOND READING: 1 Timothy 6:11-16
This pastoral letter was addressed personally to Timothy who at this time was the bishop of Ephesus. Paul who was much more older than him, and ofcourse a senior apostle reminded him of the duty imposed on him by his vocation. He called him to be faithful to the “yes” he said in the presence of many witnesses. What is this yes? To be faithful to the commandment of God, to uphold the doctrine undiluted and to look after the flock placed in his charge. It was indeed a call as an authority to learn to lead by example: concern for God and for the people.
GOSPEL: Luke 16:19-31: This is another parable of it’s kind recorded only by the evangelist Luke and the only parable whereby Jesus used a personal name (Lazarus) unlike others like good samaritan, a sower, a steward etc. For this, many have interpreted the parable to mean a live story told by Jesus rather than a mere parable. Be it as it may, this parable is found within the same pericope of Jesus’ teaching on the use of wealth as we saw last sunday. Specifically, today’s parable was told as a reaction to the Pharisees who loved money (Lk 16:14) that if the growth in material affluence in this life is not well managed and channelled, can pose a serious danger in the afterlife.
In the parable, we identify three major characters:
The rich man:
The name of this man was withheld in the whole narrative. Although the parable is sometimes called the parable of Dives and Lazarus, and this makes many to think that the name of the rich man was Dives. No, the traditional name Dives is not actually a name, but instead a word for “rich man” as was used in the text of the Latin Bible, the Vulgate.
The description given about him as one who often dressed in purple clothing and feasts magnificently depicts the lifestyle of the ancient wealthy Roman elites who had this appetite for luxurious and fashionable clothing. They go for expensive fabrics which were often coloured with costly tyrian purple (purple is an imperial colour associated with royalty and aristocracy) die.
What was the sin of the rich man? Certainly the parable did not condemn him for being rich. There was equally no mention of his express attitude of hostility towards Lazarus. Afterall he allowed him to lie close to his door and never drove him away. That is a good thing. Unfortunately, he was so much entangled in his personal life of material affluence that blocked him from attending to the need of Lazarus. Thus it is not enough to notice the presence of the other but to see their needs and to attend to them. Hence the sin of the rich man ( negligence and indifference). A sharp contrast to his attitude is that of the good samaritan. The samaritan figure was a rich man in his own way. Everything about him in the story suggests that he was rich (owing a means of transportation in that era, paying for a hospital bill and even promised to pay more on his way back. He did not just noticed a fellow, but he saw his need and attended to it.
As a derivative of the Hebrew word Eleazar, Lazarus means “God is my help.” The end of the parable satisfies the meaning. The parable described Lazarus as a poor man covered with sores and who used to lie at the gate. Apart from the fact that such description is an extreme contrast to the rich man, it equally showed that Lazarus had a triple situational problems. He was not just poor but he was equally a beggar and a sick man. He was in deep suffering, a wretch a destitute.
What was the righteousness of Lazarus? Certainly not because he was poor. Poverty has nothing to do with living a good life. Afterall in such a cultural setting his condition depicts malediction. On the contrary Lazarus was justified because he accepted his condition of life and did not allow it to make him lose focus on God. In other words, he suffered not for the sake of suffering but a suffering lived with serenity in God. How many poor people out there accept their condition. And some commit serious crimes in the quest to better their conditions.
The introduction of Abraham opens the second phase of the parable. His presence is Luke’s way of affirming the authenticity of the message and a way of calling the attention of his audience to aspire to be where their patriarch is; a place of righteousness gained through a righteous life. It could also be a way of contrasting the life of the rich man, that riches should not be an obstacle to a good life. Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold (Gen. 13:2) yet he lived a righteous life.
What was the role of Abraham?
As a father of all nation and the father of faith, Abraham mediated the relationship between the rich man and Lazarus who remained silent throughout the narrative. This shows that the poor are always voiceless but they have a God who is the voice of the voiceless (Prov. 31:8-9).
A Picture of the Afterlife
The use of Greek word Hades in the narrative is as a substitute for the Hebrew word for Sheol which is a place of darkness; a place where the dead await for judgments (1 Enoch 22…ancient Jewish apocalyptic text). But the picture we see in the rich man and Lazarus and Abraham is that of after judgment. Thus the rich man was already passing through gehenna (punishment meant for the wicked). The christian thinkers see the relationship between these two states as heaven and hell. But Luke told this parable as a contrary doctrine against the doctrine of the Saducees who neither believed in angels nor in the afterlife. It also stand as criticism against all philosophies of materialism and atomism that believe human life ends here. On the contrary, man is a creature of God and who is on a journey towards God and not a product of chance or cosmic evolution.
LESSONS FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PARABLE
The irreversibilty of opportunities: The parable makes it clear that the opportunity to attend to the needs of the other will not last forever. It is either now or never. The rich man might have regretted his past and would have longed for a “replay of opportunity” or of life, but he was already caught up in this “eternal irreversibility.” This is a serious warning for us to do good with every single opportunity we have. Any good we neglect cannot be reversed, and God takes account of them all.
Still selfish over there: The parable equally reveals that the rich man was selfish even on the other side. He was not able to think beyond himself and those related to him. What was his second request to Abraham? ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’ Even beyond, he was not able to think outside the box; no sense of universal brotherhood. Ofcourse he loved his family no doubt. But it could be the reason why he did not notice Lazarus who was not part of his family. And maybe he was also generous to the people of his rank. But this is not charity. It is just a natural thing to help those connected to us either by blood or by social status. Charity is charity when it becomes sacrificial. It makes meaning when it goes beyond the boundary of our families and people of same rank with us to affect the lives of strangers. Let us be careful when place much emphasis on our families and friends. It is good to love and cherish them. But we must ask ourselves today: does our love go beyond these persons? Do we really notice that “Lazarus” who does not belong to those we cherish? We will be judged on the basis of the “Lazaruses” we neglect. They are lying helpless, tattered, hungry and dejected in every corner of our societies.They may not belong to us, but they belong to God. Let’s change our style of approach to people and develop a sense of openness and universal brotherhood. Let’s pick up one Lazarus today and we will make a difference. Let’s pick up one Lazarus today and we will not need a drop of water to quench our taste after, for we will surely have it in abundance.
Lest I forget. The dogs were more observant and responsive to the plight of the poor Lazarus than the rich fellow. This shows he had a serious problem of insensitivity.
The eternal barrier: The parable equally teaches us that there is no cross-over in the after life. We cannot learn to be good there so as to be admitted. I believe that the gulf between the Hades and the Bosom of Abraham was not fixed because God is nursing a cosmic grudge against man. No, it is simply the gulf between the justice of God and the obstinacy and wickedness human heart. This explains the dangerous nature of sin. It is capable of creating a distance between man and God. But this distance can only be broken through repentance. It was too late for the rich man. He knew that he was in great suffering and he equally knew the beauty of the other side. Interestingly he was also aware that he did not qualify to cross over if not he wouldn’t have asked Abraham to send Lazarus. Oh what a wretch we will become if we pretend not to see the wounded face of “Lazarus” begging us for mercy.
MEDITATION FOR THE DAY
We live in a world where millions of people sit like Lazarus outside the door. We seem to have grown used to seeing the poor. And some of us have adopted the popular saying, “we cannot help everybody”, “we cannot solve all the problems” as our motto. If one does not checkmate this mentality or tendency, it can lead to ignoring the needs of others, even when it is critical. Let’s open our “doors” (that’s our eyes and our hearts) to see if Lazarus whom we pretended not to have seen is still lying there. He does not only need our money. He could be depressed and heartbroken. He could be that orphan or that widow. He could be that fellow lying in the hospital needing presence more than medication. Please our smiles and words of peace and encouragement are our own riches. Let’s give them out to heal many wounds today. Let’s not sit and say what can I do? Even advocacy is a way out. We must be sure of this; our actions here will determine the kind of eternity we will have.
Thank you heavenly Father for putting us again on the right track to eternal life through your word today. Forgive us in those moments we have abandoned “Lazarus.” Open our hands, our eyes and our hearts today to take care of him since he is also meant for “Abraham’s bosom”. Amen.