Fr. Charles Irvin
Amos 6:1a, 4-7; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31
Three Sundays ago we heard Jesus teaching us that we must not let our possessions possess us, that we must set them aside in favor of putting God first above all else. Two Sundays ago we were presented with the parable of the prodigal son who demanded his share of his father’s estate immediately and thereupon went out and spent it all ending up in poverty with the pigs. Last Sunday we looked into the parable of the crafty steward who cooked his master’s books in order to win favor with his master’s debtors. Today we have before us the story of the rich man sitting at his table eating his sumptuous feast while Lazarus, a destitute man, sat at his front door covered with sores while dogs licked them.
Jesus used all of these parables to teach us that the love of money and the love of possessions, that is to say any form of greed, corrupts our souls and blind us as to the vision of what God wants us to be.
The poor man at the rich man’s front door was hideously burdened and in obvious need, a need the rich man couldn’t even see or acknowledge. He was simply unnoticed. Interestingly enough the poor man’s name was Lazarus, the same name as Martha and Mary’s brother whom Jesus, just before His own entrance into Jerusalem to suffer and die, raised from the dead. The poor man in today’s parable may as well have been dead.
As the parable unfolds both the rich man and the poor man have died. The rich man, now in his own torment, addresses Abraham as “Father,” in effect claiming he is Abraham’s son. Was he hoping form an inheritance from his Father Abraham just as the prodigal son claimed and received his inheritance from his own loving father? Maybe.
Those who are rich are used to giving instructions to be carried out by others and so we find the rich man today instructing Abraham to send Lazarus to him with some cool water to ease his torment. Notice that the roles are reversed. The rich man while dining sumptuously ignores poor, sore-covered Lazarus who was sitting on his doorstep but he wants Lazarus now living in paradise to come to him and comfort him.
How does the saying go? “What goes around comes around?”
Abraham doesn’t necessarily refuse the request. He notes the reality of the great chasm of destiny, a destiny in the next world that is determined by the choices we make in this world. This should cause us to sit up and take notice. The lesson to be learned is that we shape our own destinies by the choices we make as we move through life. To put it more starkly God doesn’t have to damn us because we do that for Him by our own free-will choices. Those who clamor for “freedom of choice” perhaps don’t realize what they really want. God, it seems, really respects the choices we make; He won’t cancel them out. We determine our own destinies.
To go further in today’s parable we need to recognize that the rich don’t know how to take “no” for an answer. So the rich man goes on to make another request of Abraham, asking him to send Lazarus to his house where his five brothers live, to warn them of what they face. Abraham denies his request while noting that they already have access to God’s prophets and everything they need to know about what God expects of us. Ignoring God now brings its consequences later.
Note, too, that the rich man’s vision of who his brothers are is a narrow vision, confined only to his blood brothers. So we should ask ourselves: Who are my brothers and sisters? The answer God expects us to give is this: All of the children of Abraham are my brothers and sisters. All of God our Father’s children are my brothers and sisters. We are all His family.
Apply that now to the world around us as we find it today and ask yourself: How should I be treating all of God’s children… all of the members of our human family? In that context, what attitudes do I have? Who have I let go unnoticed? What sort of decisions have I made when it comes to recognizing others around me who are in dire straits, who are being picked-on, bullied, or thrown out?
There is, in fact, a chasm between our human ways and God’s ways. Jesus, the bridge-builder, has come to us from across that chasm providing us with a way, with truth, and a way of living that will allow us to cross that chasm. How can we claim that God hasn’t given us a choice?
While we may not be financially rich we are rich in opportunities to engage our attention, living as we do in the midst of the Internet, TV programs, text messaging, Twittering, and sports — a sumptuous table of things to which we can help ourselves. We are very rich in things to do, places to go, and things to which we can give our time and attention. In the midst of these riches, we should ask ourselves what do we give to God? How much time and attention to we give to notice Him, to notice what He wants us to do?
The poor, the oppressed, and the outcast are with us, children of Abraham, our father in faith… children of God our Father. They, also, are brothers and sisters to us and belong us to as God’s own family. How we relate to them, how we treat them, is the bridge that overcomes the gap. The chasm between our world and God’s world is not unbridgeable; it can be crossed. It only becomes a fixed chasm when we at the end of our lives add up the sum total of all our decisions. We need to notice all of those who are at the front door of our consciousness. To ignore them is to put our souls in peril.