Seeing Lazarus in Your Life

The Gospel for 9/26/2010 was Luke 16:19-31 which was the story of the rich man and Lazarus. In short, a rich man goes to Hell because he was uncharitable to Lazarus, a poor man. I always squirm before the homily when I hear this Gospel during Mass because many times people will use it to jump into a tirade about how you are an evil person bound for Hell if you have any money. Some will use it as justification on why we need higher taxes or some sort of forced redistribution of wealth. I believe such analysis of this parable misses the point Jesus was trying to make. The rich man did not go to Hell because he was rich. He went to Hell because he was uncharitable with his wealth, neglected those who needed his help, and hence was not showing his love for God.

Print by Gustave Doré illustrating the parable...
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The Gospel for 9/26/2010 was Luke 16:19-31 — the story of the rich man and Lazarus.  In short, a rich man goes to Hell because he was uncharitable to Lazarus, a poor man.  I always squirm before the homily when I hear this Gospel during Mass because many times people will use it to jump into a tirade about how you are an evil person bound for Hell if you have any money.  Some will use it as justification on why we need higher taxes or some sort of forced redistribution of wealth.  I believe such analysis of this parable misses the point Jesus was trying to make.  The rich man did not go to Hell because he was rich.  He went to Hell because he was uncharitable with his wealth, neglected those who needed his help, and hence was not showing his love for God.

This parable reminds me of The Third Sorrowful Mystery of the holy rosary where the Roman soldiers placed a crown of thorns on Jesus and mocked Him.  The crowning of thorns represents how we often show our faith.  Through our actions, instead of offering Jesus a majestic crown made from our love for Him we present a pitiful one made from our indifference.  When do we show this indifference, apathy, and even hatred towards Jesus?  When do we crown Him with “thorns?”  Surely we would treat Him with the utmost honor and respect if we saw Him, correct?  Look no further than Matthew 25:41-45:

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs? He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.

By ignoring Lazarus, the rich man ignored Jesus.  If charity shows love for Jesus, then acting uncharitable shows contempt.  Through his actions, the rich man was not putting Jesus first in his life.  The rich man is the antithesis of the Good Samaritan.  While the Good Samaritan lived a life of constant prayer and could spot those in need and readily help them, the rich man was blind to the needs of others.  And that is the heart of Jesus’ parable.  It’s not that money is inherently bad and those who have some and live comfortably should feel ashamed.  It’s that wealth has the capacity to blind you to the needs of others and can prevent you from offering Jesus the true respect, honor, and love He deserves.  That is, money will blind you if you let it.

On the flip side, having some level of wealth provides great opportunities to help others in need and hence really show love for Jesus.  Look around and see some of the great institutions and services funded through charitable donations.  Whether it is a food drive, soup kitchen, or a new hospital, these opportunities to help the less fortunate come from people who use their wealth for good.  Without getting too political, how could these people act so charitably if they did not accumulate anything and could only look after their basic needs?  I want to end with a trailer from the movie, “The Blind Side.”  Besides it being a good movie I think the story paints a good picture on how having a certain level of resources at your disposal enables people to do great things for those less fortunate.

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