Luke 16: 19-31 (NRSV)
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
It is important to note that the rich man in this story is not condemned for treating Lazarus with contempt or evil, but for doing nothing. This reminds me of the (possibly over-used) quote: ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.’ What are we silent about?
Who are we ignoring?
I had the privilege of meeting Father Peter McVerry recently, a Jesuit priest who has been working to fight homelessness in Ireland for decades. I asked him how he maintains his hope when the problem seems to be getting worse. He told our little group that his anger sustains him, and talked about the positive nature of anger. Our anger can fuel our fight – the fight we have been assigned. The radical idea that the Kingdom of Heaven can be brought to earth will not be reality while we sit idly by, ignoring the division, injustice, poverty, and inequality inflicted on our fellow humans, and the destruction of our earth. Father Peter McVerry cited this week’s parable, among many others, as proof that Jesus was angry. He was angry at how people were treating one another. As children of God, we all deserve to have our dignity affirmed and recognised. We each have the right to be treated as if we were made in the image of God.
If we say we believe every life is precious, every life is God-given and that God is in every human heart, then surely we should be treating one another as if this were true? Saint Ignatius wrote every day: ‘who will I help today?’
To sit at the side of a road holding a paper cup, or at the gate of a rich man with only dogs for company… these are not experiences any person should go through. And yet in Ireland alone we have over 10,000 homeless people. People whose dignity is not being recognised.
Church, what are we doing about this? If we are the hands and feet of Jesus, I wonder if Jesus is feeling restless? We should be far more concerned with meeting the needs around us than with… well, anything else. In Acts, we see that new Christians would “sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (2:45; 4:32-34). The early church was centred on meeting the needs of those around them – when did we lose this? When did we become a religion and not a way of life? When did we stop hearing the cries of those who need us?
The central message of the Gospel is love. No strings attached, radical, practical love. We must re-discover this and figure out what it looks like in our world today. We must meet the needs of those around us.
This story should scare us. Not because we might go to Hell – I don’t think Jesus was being literal when he described how each of these lives ended (hence the use of parables) – but he was warning us that our world is falling apart because we prioritise wealth over generosity, and ignore the needs around us.
If not you then who? If not now then when?
When Lazarus says that his brothers will change if someone visits them from the dead, Abraham responds by saying if they have not listened to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced by someone being raised from the dead. If we have not been convinced by Jesus that we must love our neighbour, we have no ground to stand on when God says “I was hungry and you did not feed me”. We have all the information we need, and the proof that our world needs us to act.
Katie is an aspiring writer, an eternal intern, and a passionate Jesus-Feminist. With a Master’s in International Development and a Bachelors in Sociology and French, she is qualified for ... making lattes and pulling pints (skills that she has put to great use). She recently returned to Ireland after working in New York and studying in Edinburgh.