As with most Jesus parables, the story of Lazarus and the rich man is bounteous in teaching. One could right a few dozen homilies certainly and still not exhaust its levels of meaning.
Today, as I sat at St. Elizabeth’s I was gifted with a new insight. Let me share it with you, with a few thoughts of my own.
Nowhere in the story do we learn that the rich man is a bad person. He is not cruel or actively unkind to Lazarus. In fact, there is no real indication that he is more than barely aware of Lazarus at all.
He is a wealthy man, and undoubtedly a busy one. He has business to transact, and presumably a large household to over see. He probably has a large family, servants, and other employees. He undoubtedly, because of his wealth, shares in the political life of his town. Thus, he may have barely noticed this poor sick man who laid outside his gate, much as other poor souls undoubtedly did at the gates of the other wealthy in town.
Yet, the rich man’s fate is to spend eternity in Hades, tormented. He is reminded that he lived a good life, and he has had his reward. Lazarus, whose life was mean, now reaps the rewards of heaven.
Yet we have no clue that the rich man did not attend to his religious duties (the letter of the Law) as required. Still, his fate is harsh.
We learn that we cannot bank on just doing no harm in the world. We can’t skate by, by paying taxes and raising decent children, providing food and home for our families, attending to our business, perhaps even in being a fair and honest person in all our dealings. This and all the normal accoutrements of the normal middle class life, will not suffice to raise us to share eternity with God. This is what we learn.
That’s kind of jolting isn’t it? I mean, most of us don’t have time to volunteer, to be politically active in our communities, to support needy causes, either financially or with our time. We are strapped to the max just in making an adequate living, getting a good education for our kids, paying health insurance premiums, and all the other things thought necessary to live “well.”
And if this is true for us, then we can take no comfort that mere attendance to the rituals of Sunday worship will insure our eternal life. For mere adherence to the formalities of our faith will not be enough according to the parable.
The rich man begs that Lazarus be sent to his living brothers to issue a warning to them. Surely, they will repent of their lack of attention to the real point of faith, and begin to live out their faith truly. Abraham says no, for if they are unable to see God’s teaching now, no resurrected being will make any difference. They will walk by, oblivious still.
And what does that say today? What has it always said?
When we are complacent in our faith, when we think that attending Mass on Sunday, praying a rosary, or whatever rituals we engage in, is enough to save us, we have become blind, truly unable to see the message that has been before us.
And we are all complacent to one degree or another. We become sure that our interpretation of the bible, of Jesus as man and/or God are correct. We become sure that our vision of God is correct. We relax and attend to all the other facets of our lives, thinking our faith life is in order.
And in doing so, we become fundamentalists. Sure of ourselves, sure of what it all means, sure of what we do, and what we don’t do.
Jesus walks among us every day, in the faces of all whom we meet, and we mostly don’t see Him. And if he were to appear in glory as the risen Christ, declaring himself, we would laugh and shake our heads and walk away, not seeing, not seeing. Because He will be almost assuredly other than we expect.
This is why Abraham knows that if the Gospel has not changed the heart yet, no resurrected being will do so, for He will not meet our expectations nor the box we have encompassed our faith into.
Enough has been said, and preached, and died for, and still we turn our concerns elsewhere, denying our responsibility to each other and to our earth.
The parable calls us to think deeply about who we are, what we are, and what we are doing. Who are the Lazarus’s in our lives? Those whom we systematically don’t even see. We have become so used to life as-is that we have grown lazy and complacent.
Shall we too find ourselves begging for a drop of water to ease our torment?