Who is the Lazarus lying at our door? Couldn’t every one of us help someone?
By Tim Irwin
Twenty-Six Sunday in Ordinary Time/Sept. 29
Amos 6:1a,4-7; Psalm 146:7,8-9,9-10; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31
Once again, this week, St. Luke offers yet another teaching concerning God’s love for the outcast, the perils of arrogance, and our critical need for humility. This story features the other Lazarus, not the man from Bethany who made one of the biggest comebacks of all time, but the poor beggar.
Jesus said, “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, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.”
The reference to purple garments is significant. A pound of purple cloth cost more than most people earned in a year, so this guy was loaded. Sumptuous dining typically occurred only on special occasions, so again, this guy lives the life of the super-rich and from Luke’s perspective, that’s not the problem. The rich man suffers from an extreme case of arrogance. Luke is not suggesting that he end all poverty, just do the good that he can reasonably do. But he is so devoid of compassion, he does nothing to ease the suffering of Lazarus lying at his door. He doesn’t even call off the dogs.
Then the tables turn.
BLESSINGS IN DISGUISE
“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, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side,” Jesus continues. The reference to Abraham lets the original audience know that Lazarus, like the rich man, was also one of the Children of Israel. Ignoring one’s own countryman adds yet another level of cruelty to the rich man’s conduct as if the dogs weren’t enough.
The rich man asks Abraham to permit Lazarus to refresh his tongue with a drop of water. Here again, as is oft the case in Luke, a vivid contrast distinguishes one like Lazarus whose compassion is so great, he would have willingly helped the person who never so much as offered him the scraps from his table, but for the rich man, it’s too late.
The torment seems to be working because the rich man suddenly expresses a concern for others. “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.”
But Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.”
He said, “Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” Then Abraham said, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”
Why not? Why won’t they be persuaded? How come even the Risen Christ leaves some unmoved? Presumably, the five brothers suffer from the same debilitating effects of arrogance as did the rich man. They are just too ego-centered to see this life as it really is. Again, and again, Luke teaches that arrogance impedes the sinner from accepting the forgiveness that we all so desperately need.
Luke repeatedly tells us that helping the outcasts can be a blessing, if it helps us to love the Father as Jesus does with our whole heart, soul, mind, and self, and others as Jesus loves them. Obviously, none of us have the resources to help everyone, but couldn’t every one of us reasonably help someone? Who is the Lazarus lying at our door?
Tim Irwin teaches theology and philosophy at Notre Dame High School in Peoria. He is a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Morton.