by Fr. Tommy Lane
What we do to others we do to God (because of God’s association with us in the Incarnation of Jesus). What we do to others we do to Jesus. We could say that in many different ways the Gospels put this teaching before us and once again today the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) asks to reflect on this amazing fact. What we do to others we do to God. What we do to others we do to Jesus. The rich man is not condemned for being rich. Instead he is condemned because he did not show charity to a poor man called Lazarus. Lazarus wanted just the scraps from the rich man’s table but we are given the impression that he didn’t receive even the scraps.
Notice that there is no mention of poor Lazarus being envious. Envy doesn’t enter into the parable at all because in fact the rich man had nothing to make someone envious of him. He had riches, yes, but not true riches. This is clearly seen when both men are in the next life and then we see who has true riches, poor Lazarus, and the rich man has nothing. Even though the rich man appeared to have everything one could want he may have felt quite empty. Money cannot buy everything. This is how Pope Benedict comments on this parable in his book Jesus of Nazareth (p215).
The Lord wants to lead us from foolish cleverness toward true wisdom; he wants to teach us to discern the real good. And so we have good grounds, even though it is not there in the text, to say that…the rich glutton was already an empty-hearted man in this world, and that his carousing was only an attempt to smother this interior emptiness of his. The next life brings to light the truth already present in this life.
It is selfish spending gone out of control that is critiqued by Jesus in his parable. Jesus’ teaching asks us to show solidarity and not selfishness. This parable is spelling out of what Jesus means when he says we must love our neighbor as ourselves. We see the same insensitivity of the rich to the situation around them in the first reading also (Amos 6:1,4-7). The Lord said through the prophet Amos that the rich were living lives of luxury and ignoring the collapse of Joseph around them, i.e. ignoring the collapse of Israel (Joseph=Israel). Once again the problem is not the rich being rich, because we see examples in Scripture of the rich doing good. The rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, went to Pilate after Jesus died and asked for the body of Jesus (Matt 27:57). Nicodemus brought a huge amount of myrrh and aloes to anoint Jesus’ body after he died showing that he also was a rich man who wanted to use his wealth appropriately (John 19:39). We also see a rich tax collector named Zacchaeus undergoing a conversion experience (Luke 19:1-10). What is being critiqued in the Scriptures today is when we ignore what is happening around us. Indifference to those who are in need and who are suffering is what the Scriptures put before us today as sinful. We could put it another way; we cannot go to God without our brothers and sisters around us who are suffering.
Lazarus continues to knock at our door and so the Church has many initiatives to help the poor. How many hospitals, schools, hospices, shelters have been founded by the Church to heed the call of Christ to care for the poor. Saints in this country are known for their care for the poor. In first place we think of the saint nearest to us, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. She founded a convent in Emmitsburg which became the Sisters of Charity, and she founded a Catholic school in Emmitsburg, the first free Catholic school in the country. From Emmitsburg many other convents and schools were founded so that this part of the country has had a profound influence on the Catholic education of this country. St. Frances Xavier Cabrini founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart to help Italian immigrants and by the time of her death she had founded 67 institutions to help them. We think of St. Katharine Drexel dedicating her life to help Native Americans and African Americans. Because the poor man Lazarus continues to knock at our doors in every century in new ways the Church continues to help the poor. So in the latter part of the last century the Vatican founded the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace which is an arm of the Curia to reach out to the poor Lazarus of this world. The annual Peter’s Pence Collection is entirely given by the Pope to help the poor of the world. We have many Catholic Church aid agencies scattered throughout the world to help those in underdeveloped countries.
As individuals we also reach out in many ways. Whenever there is a natural disaster or calamity of some kind people are known for their generosity. Some people very generously tithe. In our time we could say that those who are most poor and vulnerable are the unborn. They are the Lazarus knocking on our door for protection. Governments also have many programs to give aid to developing nations but what a pity that some of these programs are tainted by supporting immorality, in particular by not being open to life or by supporting abortion programs in other countries.
What is the parable saying to us? Surely it is asking us to reflect once again on our consumption to see whether it is moderate or gone out of control. Surely it is asking us to reflect on whether we are sufficiently sensitive to the needs of those around us who are suffering in any way. What is being critiqued in the Scriptures today is when we ignore what is happening around us. Indifference to those who are in need and who are suffering is what the Scriptures put before us today as sinful. What we do to others we do to God. What we do to others we do to Jesus.
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013
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