The Parable we hear today is a popular story of Egyptian origin of two people buried on the same day stressing that the good receive good things and the evil ones receive bad things when they die. The rich man, probably a Sadducee, could afford fine linen for his undergarments and a purple outer garment, one of the most expensive outfits known in the ancient world. He dines magnificently every day and seems to have been a very self-indulgent person.
In contrast to the rich man, who feasts in company every day, Lazarus is portrayed as a helpless, lonely beggar who receives nothing but the unwanted attention of stray dogs. He is the only person who is named in any of Jesus’ parables. His name means “God helps.” Sitting only metres away at the gate of the rich man’s house, he is longing for the bread guests are using to clean their fingers. Both he and the rich man are fully aware of the other’s existence, and all that separates them is a gate. This scene describes our world perfectly. The tragedy of the story is that Lazarus is invisible. In the mind of the rich man he doesn’t exist. At the centre of this totally unfair situation lies the fundamental belief that we are owners of wealth rather than stewards. We should manage our wealth for others as well as ourselves. “You shall love yourself, your neighbour and your God” (Lev.19:18).
The arrogance of the rich man continues even after his death. He orders Abraham and Lazarus to comfort him, because in his mind he was fully entitled to that. He pleads, “Send Lazarus to my father’s house that he may warn [my brothers]”. The chasm is not just between two people. It spans all of humanity, “my father’s house”, the Kingdom of God. In the parable, we hear Abraham reply, “They have Moses and the prophets… if they do not listen to them they will never be convinced.”
We are encouraged not to differentiate between people but rather to show kindness to everyone, regardless of their status in society. We must shine Jesus’s light wherever there is darkness, show love wherever there is hatred and act in a way that will close those gaps that society creates.
Like Jesus we have to treat everyone equally. We have to share what we have with the poor and needy and give our time and our ears to those in need. This is the key to living the meaningful life that God had in mind for us. If you do good, good will come to you.
St. Basil (379 AD) offers challenging words that put this Gospel parable in a nutshell for us today: “Aren’t you behaving like a thief when you consider yours the riches of this world, while these riches have been entrusted to you for stewardship?”
Questions to ponder:
Are you treating all people equally?
Challenge yourself to close the gap between rich and poor.