Amos 6: 1, 4 – 7, I Timothy 6: 11 – 16, Luke 16: 19 – 31
Over many years I have found reading the Scriptures in the ancient process of Lectio Divina to be very nourishing and enriching. Lectio Divina as prayer… deepens our relationship with God in a natural organic way, disposes, opens, and informs us for the gift of union with God, it challenges and changes us.
The gospel for this weekend is one of Jesus’s best-known parables and it is probably one that is misunderstood by many. The parable is not about life after death, nor is it a judgement on riches, nor is Jesus making a choice of the poor over the wealthy. At the heart of the story, Jesus is teaching us that God does not condemn people to hell or bring people to heaven. The way to follow is challenging and learning to love, with one’s whole heart, whole soul, and whole mind and to love your neighbour as yourself is the deeper call. This universal love doesn’t notice differences, like the nameless ‘rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently every day’ or the poor man, Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table”.
In reading this parable through the lens of Lectio Divina: Read, Reflect, Respond and Rest, the phrase, the ‘bosom of Abraham’ caught my attention, and I was curious to explore its meaning.
The parable tells us that the poor man called Lazarus, whose name means ‘God has helped’, covered with sores, who longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table, dies, and was taken away, by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.
But what is significant about the bosom of Abraham? Well Abraham is our father in faith. He had been given the promise that his people would become chosen and special people and that when they died, they would follow Abraham. “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heir according to the promise.” (Gal: 3: 27 – 29).
The Bosom of Abraham refers to the place of comfort in the Sheol or Hades version of the Hebrew scriptures from around 200 BC, and therefore is described in the New Testament as the place where the righteous dead abide prior to Jesus’ resurrection.
In the New Testament, the phrase bosom of Abraham occurs only once and it is in this scripture passage for today, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus, the man with leprosy, is carried by the angels to that place of comfort.
“When the poor man died, “he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham”. The rich man when in torment, raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. He knew Lazarus was in a place of comfort, “and he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me’. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.” “Abraham replied, my child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.”
For us, Abraham is a significant figure in our faith, indeed God is called the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because with them God’s relationship of promise and purpose was fixed for all those who descended from them. And the Lord took him outside and said, “Now look to the heavens and count the stars, if you are able.” Then He told him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 5:15).
We are reminded of the special place of Abraham in our lives in praying the Benedictus in the Prayer of the Church. Here we recall Abraham and the covenant that was sworn to him. “He swore to Abraham our father to grant us, that free from fear, and saved from the hands our enemies, we might serve him in holiness and justice all the days of our lives”.
The last line of the Magnificat reads “He protects Israel his servant, remembering his mercy promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and their decedents for ever”.
There are many things that could be said about the reading for this weekend and the golden thread running through the Gospel is that God does not judge, heaven is open, and the Bosom of Abraham awaits us. We can begin our heaven on earth by responding to the innate desire to know God and to be known by God, deepening the relationship through daily reading of the scriptures in the process of Lectio Divina.
When we arrive at the place that the rich man and Lazarus went to, we will meet the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Fionnuala Quinn O.P.