26th Sunday Ordinary Time Gospel Reflection - Parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus

 All the readings and various commentaries on the scriptures can be found here.

The Gospel this Sunday is one of those parables that hits hard and straight with its uncompromising message for all of us in the rich world:-  the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

We know that wealth in itself is not bad. After all, Abraham was wealthy. But being responsible with what we have and making sure we are generous to those who have less is a responsibility that I cannot shirk.

I spent a just over a year working in Malawi, Africa in my late thirties and became familiar with the daily grind of poverty and realised how over time it was almost inevitable that compassion fatigue developed, sometimes along with a protective barrier and disengagement that protected myself from the overwhelming mass of suffering in my sight. 

When I eventually came home it took me several years to readjust to my lifestyle which is far above two thirds of the world's population. 

I have Western "wealth" in relative terms to the global village and I have always felt uncomfortable about that because it is by sheer luck that I was born into this part of the world.

Ron Rolheiser's commentary below is a sobering reminder of why we are all the rich man.
The Danger of Riches

Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions” (Lk 12:15).

“Nobody gets to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor!” That’s an axiom attributed to James Forbes, the pastor of Riverside Church in New York City. 

He’s right. If Jesus is to be believed, then we need to believe that the poor stand before us always as that place where we are judged. We get to heaven (or don’t) on the basis of our response to the poor. 

The cross of Christ is the key to life and the cross is forever being erected at that place where the excluded ones, the poor, suffer. Only at that place can we learn the crucified-wisdom that, at the end of day, puts us inside the circle of discipleship, or, stated in another way, opens up for us the gates of heaven.

But, as we know, it’s not easy to actually feed the hungry, clothe the naked, console the sorrowful, or help the downtrodden. Why?

Mainly because we never see them. We think we do, but in reality we don’t. In fact, that’s the point the gospels make when they point out the dangers of riches, namely, wealth blinds us so that we don’t see the poor.

We see this clearly in the famous, gospel parable about the rich man who dines sumptuously every day, while a poor man, Lazarus, sits under his table and eats the crumbs that fall there. The rich man dies and goes to Hades and, from there, he finally sees Lazarus - implying that he had never seen him before even though Lazarus had sat just a few feet away from him during his life.

John Donahue, a biblical scholar, makes this point about that parable: “The rich man is condemned not because he is rich but because he never saw Lazarus at his gate: the first time he sees him is from Hades, emphasized by the somewhat solemn phrase, ‘He lifted up his eyes, and saw’. 

Here the text is bitterly ironic. In life there was a chasm between himself and Lazarus because of wealth and power; in death this chasm still exists.”

Image James Tissot , The Rich Man Pleads With Abraham 

The real danger of wealth is that it causes a “blindness” that renders us incapable of seeing the poor. Jean Vanier, in the Massey Lectures at the University of Toronto in the late 1990s, made the same point: The “great chasm that can’t be bridged”, he suggests, exists already now, in the present distance between the rich and poor. 

The next life simply eternalizes a present situation where the rich and poor are separated in a way so that one cannot cross over to the other. Why?

According to the gospels, the major reason is that the rich simply don’t see the poor.

Fr. Austin at A Concord Pastor Comments has a vivid image of this chasm here.

It is easy to miss the point here: Jesus isn’t saying that wealth is bad. Nor is he saying that the poor are virtuous and the rich are not. Indeed the rich are often just as virtuous in their private lives as the poor.

We sometimes naively glamorize poverty, but poverty isn’t beautiful and, often times, isn’t particularly moral either. A lot of violence, crime, sexual irresponsibility, domestic breakdown, drug abuse, and ugliness of all kinds, happens on the poorer side of the tracks. The rich are no worse than the poor, in these things.

But where the rich are worse is in vision, eyesight. 

When we are rich, we have a congenital incapacity to see the poor and, in not seeing them, we never learn the wisdom of the crucified. 
That’s why it’s hard, as Jesus said, for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.

That’s also why it’s hard for rich nations and rich individuals to reach across the great divide that separates us from the poor. 

We try, but in the richest nation in the world, the United States, one in every six children still falls below the poverty line and, worldwide, despite all the resources and good-will on this planet, one billion people subsist on less than a dollar a day and thirty thousand children die every day from diseases that could easily be prevented by simply supplying clean drinking water. 
There’s a gap that we can’t find a way to cross.

We see—but we don’t see! We feel for the poor—but we don’t really feel for them! We reach out—but we never reach across. The gap between the rich and poor is in fact widening, not narrowing. It’s widening worldwide, between nations, and it’s widening inside of virtually every culture. The rich are becoming richer and the poor are being left ever further behind. Almost all the economic boom of the last twenty years has sent its windfall straight to the top, benefiting those who already have the most.

What Jesus asks of us is simply that we see the poor, that we do not let affluence become a narcotic that knocks out our eyesight. Riches aren’t bad and poverty isn’t beautiful. But, nobody gets to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor."
Fr. Ron Rolheiser

                                                            Eric Bibb - The Needed Time

In this extract below from an article in the Catholic Herald Bishop David McGough says:

"Luke’s parable of the poor man Lazarus and the rich man dressed in fine purple is deeply disturbing. ..................

In some parts of the world the very poorest literally depend on the rubbish that we export, the scraps that fall from our throwaway society. The rich man had spectacularly refused to accept any moral responsibility for his wealth. He simply enjoyed what he had without any further thought.

The subsequent dialogue between Abraham and the rich man condemned both his neglect and its underlying attitudes.

Self-indulgent wealth isolates itself in a mindset beyond the reach of God. 

When the rich man pleaded for forgiveness, Abraham spoke of a gulf so deep that none might cross it.

Let us pray that our attitudes to wealth might never create an unbridgeable gulf that puts us beyond the mind of God."

Finally,  below is a link to  a complex and lengthy article by Walter Brueggemann but it is one that certainly makes me aware of the chasm that has opened up in our culture because "the narrative of our countries in the developed world has been and is by various “scripts,” : therapeutic, technical, consumerist, and militarist."

The link is below : it is well worth your time :

This Narrative of Death That is So Powerful within Us


Jan said...

Thank you. So much to ponder. I always like to see Ron Rolheiser, as he is the president of Oblate School of Theology, my former school.

Philomena Ewing said...

Hi Jan. Nice to hear from you. Wow- you are so lucky to have met Rolheiser.Did he give lectures whilst you were a student?