Gospel Text: Luke 16:19-31
General Textual comments
This Sunday’s passage is entirely taken up with one parable. It is in three sections – each one is a story in itself, so you can remain with any one of them:
– verses 19 to 22: an introductory scene ending with the death of both Lazarus and the rich man;
– verses 23 to 26: a first dialogue between the rich man and Abraham;
– verses 27 to 31: a second dialogue between them.
All but one of the Sunday gospel passages for the next few weeks include a parable. It is therefore good to remember the special kind of teaching that a parable is, a kind of teaching that is not common in our culture.
We are accustomed to moralizing stories, in which the point of the story is to exhort us to imitate the hero or heroine. A parable is not meant to work like that. Its method is to evoke a personal response to the story: what a surprise that was! or, what an unexpected ending! Then it says to us: remember an experience like that and you will know what happens when God comes into people’s lives.
As in every story, you must find yourself identifying with one of the characters; for example, in this parable there are three characters – the rich man, Lazarus, and Abraham.
A reminder for this parable: all Bible meditation must start from experience. Therefore do not read this parable first of all as something that happened in the next life, because you have no experience of that. The parable may well lead you to conclude something about the next life, but you mustn’t start there.
Lord, there are times when we feel very lonely,
ignored by everyone,
as if we were at the gate of a very wealthy man,
longing to fill ourselves with scraps from his table.
But you lead us from there to an experience of security :
– a moment of deep prayer;
– we feel loved by our family;
– we find ourselves in a group which shares our values.
We feel as if we had been gathered into the bosom of our ancestors,
safe from all those who would send us here and there for their own purposes,
as safe as if a great gulf had been fixed between us
to stop anyone who wanted to from crossing from our side to theirs,
and to stop anyone crossing from their side to ours.
Thank you, Lord.
Lord, remorse is a terrible thing.
It is being in agony in flames of fire,
seeing those we have wronged a long way off,
longing to have them dip their finger in water
and cool our tongue, and finding that between us and them a great gulf has been fixed
to stop any crossing from their side to ours.
Preserve us, Lord.
Lord, we pray for parents today,
that they may teach right values to their children,
teaching them not to set their hearts on purple clothes and fine linen
nor on feasting magnificently every day,
because these things die and are buried,
but to reverence poor people because one day they will be carried
away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
“We must build a world where freedom is not an empty word
and where the poor man Lazarus can sit down at the same table with the rich man.”…Pope Paul VI
Lord, when we look around at the world today, what do we see?
Rich nations dressed in purple and fine linen,
feasting magnificently every day,
while at their very gates lie poor nations,
covered with sores and longing to fill themselves
with scraps from the tables of the rich,
dogs even come and lick their sores.
Lord, we pray that your Church may continue to call the world
to repentance as Jesus did.
“The moment we cease to hold each other,
the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.” …James Baldwin
Lord, whenever the time comes
that rich people dress in purple and fine linen
and feast magnificently every day,
while the poor lie at their gates unattended,
their only future is to die and be buried.
1. Hearing our basic stories together is one of the key ways that we are formed within communities; and as a community of faith this is a key way through which we remain in union with the teaching of the Christ. These are the two basic reasons why we have them read to us at our Sunday gatherings. The telling and retelling of our sacred texts forms us into the body of Christ, and for this reason we say that one of the modes of Christ’s real presence in the assembly is in the readings.
However, this presence is all too easily obscured. This happens when, for example, a group all want to read the text as individuals from their own books rather than to listen to the text as a group. When this happens — and it is no longer confined to Reformation groups who explicitly adopt an individualist approach to the scriptures – the liturgical hearing of our inheritance of stories is more like many people sitting in a library all engaged in their own business, rather than an audience at a play where they react together in sadness, in sympathy or in joy.
Another way that the presence is obscured is when there are too many words or pieces of text that require assistance to make them clear or even comprehensible. A story that is too complex to its hearers is one that does not really create the common memories that make us one people. Therefore, actualising the presence of Christ in the Liturgy of the Word is one of the most difficult tasks than any president of the Eucharist faces today. But there are occasions when this challenge is far easier to meet; and this Sunday is one of those occasions.
2. The combination of the first reading and the gospel pick out for us that the message of these readings is the Lord’s preferential option for the poor (and not, for example, the structure of judgement or the cosmology of hell – two themes for which this gospel has often been used in the past). And this theme is not only one that is central to the whole message of the Christ, but also one which is comprehensible because it touches some of our basic instincts. The proof that it is comprehensible can be found in the vehemence with which those with vested interests in making easy money at the expense of the poor turned their firepower on the proponents of Liberation Theology – how many other movements in theology can you think of that have generated such well-financed opposition?
Moreover, in the whole of the gospels (the infancy and passion narratives apart) there is probably no more memorable a story by Jesus: we can picture ‘the rich man’; we can picture hungry Lazarus with his sores being licked by the dogs; we can imagine the flames and the cooling sip of water; and we can imagine ‘being in torment’. To hear this story is to enrich one’s imagination.
3. So today is a day to let these two readings seep into the imagination and contribute to the formation of a community of memory. How does one do this?
Omit the second reading as a distracting interlude to the theme.
Do not preach a homily, but call for a time of silent reflection: two minutes is usually enough.
Ensure that people listen to the two readings: so remove the missalettes and ‘Mass books’.
Make sure that the reader of the first reading appreciates the plan for the liturgy today and reads each ‘woe’ distinctly as something that each of us can take on board as a basic idea.
Read the gospel with special solemnity: procession with book, an escort of lights, and with incense.
Read it out as if telling a story. Some translations are much better for this than others; but, on the whole, the suitability of any translation for capturing the storytelling tone of the original will depend on how it interacts with your own storytelling style. And our individual storytelling styles are as distinctive as our mannerisms, so you may have to experiment with several translations. Below you will see how I have adapted the RSV translation to suit my own style:
Still on the theme of the proper use of money, Jesus tells another parable this time showing, in story form, the meaning of the beatitudes in ch 6: ‘Happy you who are poor’ and ‘Woe to you who are rich.’ In the story a wealthy man is utterly unaware of the misery of the poor man who lies at his gate. When they die they find that the situation is reversed. Now it is the rich man who is in need of a mere drop of water and it is Lazarus the poor man who is happy with Abraham in heaven. The point of the story is not to promote the idea of ‘pie in the sky when you die’. It is rather an attack on the greed and selfishness in a world of plenty that leaves the poor excluded. If this was a problem in biblical times, it pales into insignificance when we consider today’s world and the scale of the misery experienced by so many. The parable retains all its force; the difference is Jesus did come back from the dead and not just to tell us about heaven but about the poor people at the gate. Are we listening?
It would probably be true to say that most Christians nowadays do not give much thought to the questions about the Second Coming of Jesus. However our life of faith cannot be reduced to following a set of rules. Rather our Christianity must give thought to the fact it depends on a relationship. In this way we will, like Amos, be impatient for an end to all the lifestyles and practices that run contrary to the values of the kingdom of God. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!
Donal Neary S.J.
Faith in action: On fire with hope
This story of Jesus highlights the inequality of rich and poor. Jesus appeals to our sense of justice,, right and goodness. There is no need for anyone to come back from the dead to warn us of this inequality. The doors between rich and poor can often be locked as were the doors between Dives and Lazarus. Those outside can only knock, protest and even break down doors. The doors must be opened from the inside.
This message of justice and hope for an equal share of the world’s goods for everyone is strong in the gospel of Jesus. His heart was on fire with the hope of a better life for the poor. He went to help them simply because they were poor.
The Christian Church, if it is to be faithful to the gospel, should be involved in many ways in the creation of a more just world. The Christian parish takes a special care for the refugee, the new poor, the unborn, the elderly, and in fact all whose voices may not be usually heard.
The parable is meant not to scare with images of punishment, but to make us as aware of the huge inequalities that exist in our world, and in the exploitation of resources in the developing world.
Maybe we can pray not to be tormented by any of the pains of this story, but be tormented into action by the hunger, poverty and injustices of our world. Maybe then more doors can be opened from the inside of wealth to the outside of poverty.
The rich man of the Gospel and the “worthless rich” of the prophet Amos (today’s first reading) do no understand that the many blessings we have received from God are given for us to share — to share not out of a sense of obligation but as a joyful opportunity to give thanks to God for his many blessings to us.
In our busy-ness, in our need for “me time,” in our pursuit of our own wants and expectations, we become quite adept at shutting the world out, not seeing or hearing the Lazaruses in our lives — and sometimes we are the isolated Lazarus in need of love and support and understanding.
Amassing large estates and building up profitable stock portfolios are not the stuff that true legacies are made of. We will be remembered not for what we possess but for what we give; our lasting legacy will be what we contribute to make our world a happier, healthier place.
At the first hut, a mother was caring for a child sick with a fever. Father watched as she nestled the child in her arms, wiping the boy’s face with a wet rag. For hours she held the child, patiently wiping his brow, whispering a little song as he slept. Father blessed the child and his mother, left some medicine, and went on his way.
At another house, Father arrived in time for supper. The mother had prepared a weak soup of water and a few vegetables she had begged that day. She happily welcomed the priest and offered him a small cup. As he took the soup and joined the other members of the family, he did not see a cup or bowl for the mother. He blessed the family, left some bread, and moved on.
As he arrived at the last house, a cold rain began to fall. An elderly couple lived there. The small fire offered little warmth from the damp cold. The old woman was lying on a mat, trying to sleep. She grasped the threadbare blanket around her to keep warm. Her husband had taken off his own tattered coat and tucked it around her, then sat beside her and rubbed her back to help keep her warm. Father blessed them both, left blankets for them, and returned to his own small house.
That night, having given away all of the food and medicine and blankets he had, the priest sat down and looked at his now empty cupboard and realized that he had been the one who was blessed that day.
Jesus calls his disciples not only to care for the poor but also to learn from the poor. The Lazaruses in our midst can teach us a great deal about compassion and generosity; in their poverty, they can show us how to possess real treasures of life; in their humility, they reflect the dignity of being made in the very image of God. The rich man of today’s Gospel and the “worthless rich” excoriated by the prophet Amos (today’s first reading) are too self-absorbed and satisfied to grasp the wisdom that the poor have to teach them: that the many blessings they — and we — have been given by God are a responsibility and a means to realize God’s dream of a just and merciful community of humanity.
From Fr. Jude Botelho:
Amos speaks to the wealthy people in Zion close to the mountains of Samaria, who feel secure with their wealth and riches. They spend their time in comfort sprawled on their divans, wining and dining in luxury. “Woe to you” he warns them, “your music and revelry will be reduced to silence and sorrow.” Amos is the prophet of social justice and he chastises those who enjoy themselves at the expense of the poor. A prophet in spite of himself, he slashes at the wealthy families of the northern kingdom. Their indifference to the miseries of the poor and their insensitivities to the ruin of the northern kingdom will be punished by exile. Amos points to the shallowness, of comfort and security provided by wealth.
Caring and sharing with the poor
Dr. Samuel Johnson was a great lexicographer, writer, critic and conversationalist. He was the first one to make an attempt to write the English Dictionary. William Barclay gives this account of his kindness and generosity. “Surely one of the loveliest pictures in literary history is the picture of Johnson, in his own days of poverty, coming home in the small hours of the morning, as he walked along the Strand, slipping pennies into the hands of waifs and strays who were sleeping in the doorways because they had nowhere else to go.” When someone asked him how he could bear to have his house filled with ‘necessitous and undeserving people’, Johnson answered, “If I did not assist them no one else would, and they must not be lost for want.” Dr. Johnson cared and was concerned about the beggars and the strays that flocked to him.
John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells the story of a rich man and a poor man. The rich man dresses magnificently and feasts lavishly every day. The rich man is not only rich in clothes and food but is also rich in privileges and in the freedom he enjoys from all that besets the poor. His privilege conceals from him his responsibilities; it blinds him to the man who lies at his own gate. He is not a bad man but one who is wrapped up in his own world, insensitive to the needs of others around him. In contrast to the rich man there is Lazarus, who is clothed in rags and covered with sores. Lying at the gate, he has no food. He does not beg for food, but hopes for scraps that fall from the master’s table, which the dogs fight for. He is in need, but whom no one cares for. He dies at the gate of the rich man and is buried. The next scene is after-life where there is a reversal of fortunes. Lazarus is now well dressed and enjoying the heavenly banquet. In contrast the rich man is in torment and in flames. This agony creates awareness and compassion for his brothers and he hopes Lazarus can return to earth to warn them. His regret and compassion are not enough and no warning can be given to his brothers. They have the teachings of scripture to warn them and the poor at their gates could be their salvation. Like the brothers on earth, we have the scripture to warn us of the dangers of riches and overindulgence, and we have Lazarus –the poor at our gates. We also have someone who did rise from the dead who constantly reminds us of the way to heaven. That is more than enough.
Vanity of Wealth
The famous Greek law-giver Solon once went on a vacation to the town of Lydia, in what is now the country of Turkey. It boasted to have the richest king in the world, named Croesus. Solon, the great philosopher, -quite detached from all possessions of this world –decided to visit the man who seemed to find all his happiness in wealth. As soon as he got to the place, Croesus decided to show his vaults. “What do you think of that?” he demanded triumphantly. But Solon kept silent and so the king went on, “Who do you think is the happiest man in the world?” The philosopher thought for a moment, and then named two obscure Greeks whose names Croesus had never heard before. The king was angry of being cheated out of a compliment, so he asked sharply for an explanation. Solon answered, “No man, my friend, can be considered really happy whose heart is wedded to material things. They pass and their owner becomes a widow. To the widows, belongs grief. Or to the man himself who passes away, and can take none of his gold with him. Again it is only grief.”
Frank Michalic in ‘1000 stories you can use’
Schweitzer and the Poor
Albert Schweitzer has been acclaimed the world over as a multiple genius. He was an outstanding philosopher, a reputable theologian, a respected historian, a concert soloist, and a missionary doctor. But the most remarkable thing about him was his deep Christian faith. It was a faith that influenced even the smallest details of his life. At the age of 21, Schweitzer promised himself that he would enjoy art and science until he was 30. Then he would devote the rest of his life to working among the needy in some direct form of service. And so on his 30th birthday, on October 13, 1905, he dropped several letters into a Paris mailbox. They were to his parents and closest friends, informing them that he was going to enroll in the university to get a degree in medicine. After that he was going to Africa to work among the poor as a missionary doctor. The letters created a stir and many berated him and questioned his decision. Nevertheless, Schweitzer stuck to his guns. At the age of 38, he became a full-fledged medical doctor. At the age of 43, he left for Africa where he opened a hospital at the edge of the jungle in what was then called Equatorial Africa. He died there in 1965 at the age of 90. What motivated Albert Schweitzer to turn his back on worldly fame and wealth and work among the poorest of the poor in Africa? He said that one of the influences was his meditation on today’s gospel about the rich man and Lazarus. He said: “It struck me as incomprehensible that I should be allowed to live such a happy life, while so many people around me were wresting with…..suffering.”
Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’
Do you care?
A man came home from work late and tired. He found his five-year-old son waiting for him at the door. ‘Daddy, may I ask you a question?’ ‘Yeah, sure, what is it?’ replied the dad. ‘Daddy, how much money do you make an hour?’ ‘That’s none of your business! What makes you ask such a thing?’ the man said angrily. ‘I just want to know. Please tell me, how much do you make an hour?’ pleaded the little boy. ‘If you must know, I make $20 an hour.’ ‘Oh,’ the little boy sighed, head bowed. Looking up, he asked ‘Daddy, may I borrow $10 please?’ The father was furious. ‘If the only reason you want to know how much I earn an hour is just so you can buy a silly toy or some other nonsense, then you can march yourself straight to your room, and go to bed. I work hard hours every day, and don’t have time for such childish games.’ The little boy went quietly to his room, and closed the door. The man sat down, and began to get even more annoyed about his son’s attitude. How dare he ask such questions, just to get some money? After an hour or so he calmed down, and began to think that he may have been a little hard on his son. Perhaps there was something his son really needed to buy with that $10, and he really didn’t ask for money very often. The man went to the door of the little boy’s room, and opened it. ‘Are you asleep, son?’ he asked. “No, daddy, I’m awake,’ replied the boy. ‘I’ve been thinking. Maybe I was too hard on you earlier,’ said the man. ‘I’ve had a long day, and I took annoyance out on you. Here’s that $10 you asked for.’ The little lad sat straight upright, beaming. ‘Oh, thank you, daddy!’ he exclaimed. Then, reaching under his pillow, he pulled out some more crumpled notes. The man, seeing the boy already has money, began to get angry again. The boy slowly counted out his money, and then he looked up at his dad. ‘Why did you want more money if you already had some?’ the father demanded. ‘Because I didn’t have enough, but now I do,’ the boy replied. ‘Daddy, I want to give you this $20, if you’ll spend an hour with me.’
Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel truth!’
6. The Trouble with Generalization
We may be tempted to generalize the rich -- since so few of us belong to that category. The rich man is not named, but he is also not condemned for being rich, but for his indifference and uncaring attitude towards poor Lazarus right outside his door. Remember that Abraham was wealthy, and he isn't in the place of torment.
Brian Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes
7. Who Have We Been Trampling?
There is an ancient story about a botanist who was studying the heather bell found in the highlands of Scotland. While looking through his microscope at this beautiful flower, he was approached by a shepherd who asked what he was doing. Rather than trying to explain, the botanist invited the shepherd to peer through his microscope and observe for himself. When the shepherd saw the wonder of the flower, he exclaimed, "My God, and I have been tramping on them all my life!"
Is that the word of warning we need? Wake up! Pay attention! Look around you. You may be tramping on the heart of someone nearby. Who is the Lazarus at your gate?
Doesn't the same principle apply to you and me as human beings? The blessings of life flow to you and me, but we fail to realize that most of these blessings are not meant just to flow to us, but through us, for the good of others around us, especially for those in need.
Fr. Tony Kadavil:
"America's Mansions." There was a television show, America's Mansions, featuring homes of the extremely rich in the U. S. It featured the Vanderbilt estate in Hyde Park, New York constructed by a wealthy industrialist of the nineteenth century. It is a fifty-four room home, with a breathtaking view of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains in the distance. Another feature was the home of Bill Gates the richest man in the world. Its building cost was over $53 million. It is a fifty-four room house: a 66,000 square foot complex with seven bedrooms, 24 bathrooms, six fireplaces and an 11,500 square-foot inner sanctum for privacy. The financier Nelson Peltz’s mansion on his waterfront estate in Florida is worth $75 million. The original price of the Bel-Air Mansion owned by Iris Cantor, the widow of Gerald Cantor, was $60 million. (http://www.forbes.com). We find it hard to imagine living in such luxury. But neither can we imagine the poverty found around the world. Here is the report of the United Nations Human Development Commission. "The richest fifth [20 percent] of the world's people consumes 86 percent of all goods and services, while the poorest fifth [20 percent] consumes just 1.3 percent.” The three richest people in the world have assets that exceed the combined gross domestic product of the 48 least developed countries. "Americans spend $8 billion a year on cosmetics--$2 billion more than the estimated annual total needed to provide basic education for everyone in the world.” Each day over 700 million people do not get enough to eat. Each year twelve million children below the age of five starve to death in a world that produces enough food for everyone to eat over 4 pounds of food a day. 250,000 go blind each year because of vitamin deficiency in their diet. In Latin America, forty million abandoned children live on the streets. Even in the United States about three million people are homeless at least a part of each year. In today’s Gospel, Jesus suggests a remedy: share your blessings generously with others instead of using them selfishly and thus making yourselves eligible for eternal punishment.
Sharing is the criterion of Last Judgment: Matthew (25: 31ff), tells us that all six questions to be asked of each one of us by Jesus when He comes in glory as our judge are based on how we have shared our blessings from Him (food, drink, home, mercy and compassion), with others. Here is the message given by Pope John Paul II in Yankee Stadium, New York during his first visit to the U.S., October 2, 1979. "The parable of the rich man and Lazarus must always be present in our memory; it must form our conscience. Christ demands openness to our brothers and sisters in need – openness from the rich, the affluent, the economically advanced; openness to the poor, the underdeveloped and the disadvantaged. Christ demands an openness that is more than benign attention, more than token actions or halfhearted efforts that leave the poor as destitute as before or even more so. ...We cannot stand idly by, enjoying our own riches and freedom, if, in any place, the Lazarus of the 20th century stands at our doors.”