Twenty-Sixth Sunday of the Year
Jesus very seldom names characters in his parables but today Lazarus, the poor man, is named while the rich man is not; usually it is the rich who individually “make a name for themselves” while “the poor” remain an anonymous group. The parable totally reverses the traditional belief that wealth implied God’s blessing, while poverty and suffering suggested that the person was a sinner. Here it is the rich man who is clearly in the wrong, showing off his opulence, not only by having good quality outer garments but undergarments of linen as well, while failing to notice the need of the poor man at his gate by giving him the scraps from his constant banquets. Lazarus lives his life in patience and long-suffering, making friends even with the guard dogs. The dogs licking his wounds was a sign of healing rather than aggression; the saliva of dogs was said to bring healing.
The second scene of the parable shows Abraham throwing a party for Lazarus, since being in the bosom of Abraham implied sitting in the place of honour at a banquet – as the beloved disciple did at the Last Supper (Jn 13:23). The rich man in Hades continues in character: he addresses his remarks to the important person, Abraham, rather than noticing Lazarus, except in so far as the latter could be of use to himself or his brothers. The answer of Abraham is surely the point of the parable: how we should live out our lives is clearly spelt out for us in the Torah and the Prophets (the first reading today is a pertinent and amusing example from the latter). The parable, as it has too often been interpreted, is not about a reversal of roles in the next life, leading to a “pie in the sky by and by” type of theology which has caused so much wrong thinking in Christianity. Rather it is the realisation that we have to ask ourselves if we live in accordance with the Torah and the Prophets whatever our position in life. In Luke’s gospel wealth in itself was not bad: Mary Magdalene and the other women spend theirs on the disciples (Lk 8), Zacchaeus on the poor (Lk 19). It all depends on how it is used and the rich man fails the test.
The dogs who were good to Lazarus remind us that, as Dominicans, we are domini canes “dogs of the Lord,” recalling the legend of St. Dominic’s mother dreaming that the infant in her womb was a hound who, when born would, with a lighted torch in his mouth, run around the whole world, setting it on fire.