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(Part 14)


March 20, 2014
Today’s gospel: Luke 16:19-31

Today’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a picture of the situation of social injustice in the world today. A small percentage of persons and nations hold the major part of total wealth, while the majority of people are poor. But it is not the imbalance in power or riches that makes for social injustice, but rather, it is the lack of sharing and the improper exercise of power that favors the rich and marginalizes the poor.

The contrast between Dives and Lazarus is striking. “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores” (v.19-20). Dives was filthy rich, wearing expensive clothing and feasting every day. Lazarus was filthy in his poverty. He was hungry and sickly. Lazarus was just lying outside the door of Dives. It is like many affluent walled and gated subdivisions, with homeless squatters as their neighbors just outside their walls.

It would not have taken much to provide for the needs of Lazarus, as he “would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.” (v.21a). Dives could have satisfied the hunger of Lazarus, giving not even from his abundance but just from his waste. Today the rich throw away a lot of good food, while many others in the developing nations are starving.

Here was Dives basking in his wealth, while his neighbor was deprived, not only of the bare necessities, but even of his dignity, as “dogs even used to come and lick his sores.” (v.21b). Here was a classic case of social injustice. And failure to love one’s neighbor.

Now here is the crucial reality, for both rich and poor alike. In this earthly life the rich seem to have it all while the poor have nothing. But in the afterlife, the fates of both will be reversed. “When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, .... he was in torment” (v.22-23a). The poor man Lazarus goes up to heaven while the rich man Dives goes down to hell.

Aside from social justice, there is a deep lesson for us all. We should not only look to the good in life, and we should not despair if we experience the bad. Abraham told Dives, “My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.” (v.25). People strive to get what they believe to be good things in life (money, power, possessions), and in the process live only for themselves, neglecting those in need who are just around them. On the other hand, people deplore the bad things that happen to them, not seeing that oftentimes the struggles, sacrifices and pains in life are what bring them to holiness, total dependence on God, and empathy for all those who suffer. If we have this perspective, then whatever happens to us, good or bad, we can be grateful to God and rejoice even in adversity.

While we can strive to better ourselves in life, we must be careful not to lose sight of where we are ultimately going. What good indeed would it be to gain the whole world but suffer the loss of our soul? So in life we must be grateful for the good we receive, we must be grateful for the good that would come out of the bad that we experience, and we must share the good that God gives us with those in need. Only then can we be assured of eternal life in heaven.

Lazarus was just outside Dives’ door. The poor, and what we do for the least of our brethren (see Matthew 25:31-46), are our way to eternal life. We must act now, and not wait until it is too late. “Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.” (v.26). While there is as yet no great chasm, while we still have the opportunity to reach out to the poor, as we see the poor all around us, we must do so.

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Such is the importance of our work as a community, with our Core Value of Having a Preferential Option for the Poor. This is why we all need to support our No One in Need (NONe) movement. For our brethren in rich nations, where they would not encounter the poor just outside their doors, they should look to gathering resources that would be sent to support our work in the developing world.

Let Dives have the last word: “Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.” (v.27-28).

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