Last Sunday the readings focused on the wise use of material goods and challenged us to make use of the skills we have to win friendship with God while there is time. This Sunday, the readings draw a sharp contrast between those who are rich and those who are poor - between those who have lots of power and control and those who have little power and control. The prophet Amos in the first reading warns the leaders of Israel that they will be the first to be deported into exile, because they dine like kings while the nation of Israel collapses. Amos lived in Judah around the middle of the eighth century B.C., at a time when there was a great social gap between the rich and the poor, in times when the wealthy had many possibilities of greater profit, and the poor could only grow poorer. Against this Old Testament background, Jesus tells another the parable in response to the criticism of the scribes and the Pharisee regarding welcoming sinners and eating with them.
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a perfect response by Jesus to the Pharisees who categorized the poor as sinners. The story of the rich man dressed in royal purple and Lazarus "dressed in sores", sets the stage for a dramatic reversal of fortunes. Lazarus was not only poor, but sick and handicapped. He was laid at the gates of the rich man's house daily to eat the scraps from his table. Dogs licked the sores of Lazarus as it were, feasting on him. The rich man who dinned lavishly daily could have opened the gate and helped Lazarus, but he did not. In the parable, Jesus paints a dramatic scene of contrasts: riches and poverty, heaven and hell, compassion and indifference, inclusion and exclusion. There is also an abrupt and dramatic reversal of fortunes. We are told that the poor man died and carried by angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried! The contrast continues with the rich man being tormented hell, while Lazarus is happy in heaven. The rich man is now a beggar, while Lazarus is rich in God's life. Just as there was a gap between the rich man and Lazarus on earth, now there is a great chasm between the two. The rich man was condemned not because of his possessions, but because he failed to notice Lazarus who was at his door longing only for scraps from his table.
The lesson that Jesus intends to convey could be outlined in several points. 1) To appreciate more fully this parable, one needs to keep in mind the contrasts outlined by Jesus in the beatitudes (Lk 6) - the poor are blessed, but woe to the rich; the hungry are blessed, but woe to those who have food. 2) The parable challenges us to be more compassionate towards the poor, and to be more involved in parish social ministries that give attention to the poor and the less fortunate. 3) Jesus wants us discover that true riches are to be found in sharing what we have with the poor. Lazarus is still at our doors today. Think about it.
©2019 John S. Mbinda