We are invited to an uncomfortable liturgical listening. At least for those
of us who live in the lands of plenty, these readings make us want to turn
the channel. For those who have less of this world’s material blessings there
is some sense of comfort.
We face the fact that there are poor Lazaruses lying right outside our doors.
Their poverties might be less visible than others. We necessarily have to
get up off our easy chairs and lazy-persons couches to open our prevent-defensed
doors and eyes and that is a grace we are not sure we really want to receive.
Fear of torment in the after-life can be a motive, but we are invited through
the Eucharistic sharing to move from fear to faith, from indoors to out.
We pray not to turn away from the parable, its meaning and what it asks of
us as members of Christ’s Body.
For the second week we hear from the Prophet Amos saying the hard truths
to the wealthy and so falsely secure of Israel. The words we hear are a description
of the “fat life” of the “fat cats” of Israel. They eat the finest, drink
the most, and enjoy their ease. With all this, they find their security not
in the God of their pasts, but the amount of their present. As a result of
their absorbing unconcern for the well being of their nation, they will be
the first to go into exile.
Amos has been warning them with dreams and divine foretellings, but they
were self-stuffed and deafened to God’s call by the din of their self-singing.
Independent living results in isolating exclusion.
We hear in the Gospel a continuation of Jesus’ speaking to his disciples,
but more directly to the always-attentive Pharisees. Last week’s Gospel related
the story concerning the conniving steward who used his position to win favor
with those who would have to help him when he would get fired. The Pharisees
are slowly getting the picture that Jesus sees them as having misused their
position and have begun to accumulate their power through possessions and
positions. So we hear a parable which is direct, simple and unmistakable.
It is to catch the attention of the Pharisees’ comfortability and our own.
A very rich man feasted “sumptuously” every day. The Greek word used by Luke
here for this feasting is the same as Luke used when the Prodigal Son returned
and his father ordered a feast. So this very special feast was had by this
“rich man” every day. He was dressed in the finest colors of royalty. Contrasted
with this man was a very poor man named Lazarus who lay at the door of the
rich man every day. He was dressed in sores and the dogs licked his wounds.
He would be in a similar condition as the Prodigal Son sitting with the swine.
The Pharisees hear this and know Jesus is speaking of how richly they feast
on the tributes paid by their religious adherents. The parable intensifies
the warnings Jesus has been offering them. Lazarus dies and is taken to sit
on the lap of Abraham. The unnamed-rich man dies and is removed to a place
of great torment, flames and thirst. He begs Abraham whom he sees way “up
there” to send Lazarus down with a drip-drop of water. This request is denied.
So the tormented fellow begs to have Lazarus go and warn his brothers to
repent. This does sound like a graceful gesture and request. The negative
response by Abraham is devastating.
“Moses and the prophets” have spoken to all of Israel about the demands of
justice, charity, and community. The rich man’s brothers haven’t listened
to them. Then Luke puts a fine point on this parable.
The rich man asks to have at least one person who has died to rise and tell
everybody about the truth of human misuse of wealth and material goods. Abraham
concludes the long-distance conversation by affirming that if people have
not listened to and lived by the teachings of Moses and the Prophets, they
would surely not listen to even someone who would rise from the dead. This
is obviously a reference to Jesus who would rise, but would not convert all
human hearts, especially those who find their security in their possessions.
So Lazarus was literally a doormat over which Mr. Gotitall tripped on his
way to eternity. It has been said many times that the only things we can
take with us into the after life are those things we have shared or given
away. The rich have much and so have many opportunities to prepare for the
long-life. Mr. Gotitall loved this temporary life and squeezed it tightly
like the grapes of his fine wines. He adorned his fragile body with the confinery
of opulence. He was unable to move out, extend his hands, because he was
too tight. Tight, because he was bound up with things and himself and so
what he got in the end was what he wanted, just himself.
My father was moderately wealthy and he was often heard to say that he came
into this world broke and intended to leave it in a similar condition. By
this he meant that he wanted to give away, share, entrust, bless or in any
other way, give thanks to the Giver, by imitating that same generosity. We
are invited to loosen our grip on the gifts we have received lest we begin
to think they all are really our own. There remain those who lie outside
our doors and they remain invitations to share this-life’s goods so that
we will receive the next-life’s betters.
“O Lord, remember the words you spoke to
me, your servant,
which made me live in hope and consoled me when I was downcast.”