Amos 6:1(a), 4-7
1 Timothy 6:11-16
Many people over the years, certainly in relatively more recent history, have attempted to use the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus that Jesus tells us in the Gospel today (Luke 16:19-31) as a kind of social or political commentary, but it is much simpler than that. Those who would have heard Jesus speak this parable would not have been thinking in modern social or political terms, but they might very well have had the ancient understanding of the faith of the Old Testament that “the Lord hears the cry of the poor.” Indeed, we hear this in today’s responsorial psalm, Psalm 146. The LORD, we are told, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, and protects the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. Some of the people who listened to Jesus tell the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus might have remembered the warnings of the Prophet Amos (Amos 6:4-7) about those who live in complacency and comfort while so many people around them suffer.
Lazarus was ever-present to the Rich Man, Jesus says he was “lying at his door.” This would certainly seem to indicate that the Rich Man could see Lazarus and hear him every day, and he chose of his own free will to ignore Lazarus and his suffering. We are all the Rich Man, whether we are actually rich in material things or not, and we are all faced with the same choice that he had, the choice to recognize and address the physical as well as the spiritual needs of our neighbor, or to ignore those needs and ignore our neighbor, and be happy in our own spiritual and material contentment. We can become Christ-like or we can become like the world, and the choice is up to us.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus repeatedly warns us that we will be judged partly based upon how we respond to our neighbor, and whether we love and support our neighbor. In the Gospel of Matthew (Matt 25:31:46) we are even given an image of the Last Judgement where those who respond to the needs of the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, those in prison, and the persecuted will enter the Kingdom of God, while those who do not will not be so fortunate.
God loves us with a love that is simply indescribable. So great is God’s love for us that we can’t even begin to fathom the depth of that love. Part of God’s love for us involves a respect for our free will and our ability to make choices for ourselves, including the choice not to live for Him. The thing about choices is that they have consequences, and I’m sure we have all made choices in life that have consequences we later regretted (I know I have!), but which we had no choice but to live with. In the parable that Jesus recounts to us, the Rich Man is forced to live with the consequences of his actions in life. The consequences of his actions involve eternal separation from God. Why? Because he chose to live a life of self-indulgence rather than being united with God in this life. God respects that choice. In choosing to be separate from him on this side of Eternity, this means separation from him forever. None of that is God’s choosing, and contrary to a false theology held by a great many of our fellow countrymen, including many of our well-meaning friends and neighbors in some form or other, God created us to be united with him forever, he doesn’t choose eternal separation for us. But the prospect is very real…
The simple term for this eternal separation from God is Hell. There are those who believe that God would never send anyone to Hell, and those people are right… God would never send anyone to Hell, but we can certainly send ourselves. How we can go about doing that is very well illustrated by the Rich Man. He lived a life entirely centered on self. In many ways he lived a life not that different than so many people in our society today. People who have better things to do than have a family or children. People who have better things to do than to consider the Church as a part of their vocation. People who have better things to do than to bring God’s love to others who otherwise might not experience it very much in this world. The call to be Christ to other people is, in some form or other, the call of every one of us. If we choose to ignore that call, we run the risk of the fate of the Rich Man. That fate is our choice, a choice we make entirely for ourselves.
The Rich Man was very concerned about the fate of his brothers. In our parable, he tells Father Abraham that if Lazarus cannot cool his tongue, at least his five brothers would be persuaded if they could see that this beggar man had risen from the dead to warn them of their potential chosen destiny. Abraham tells him very aptly “they have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them.” We also have Moses and the prophets, and we have been given even greater gifts than those revelations. We have the Eucharist, and we have the Magisterium of the Church, which has been handed down to us through the centuries, we have all the teachings of the Church which have preserved scripture and tradition handed down from the Apostles. We have the Sacraments where Jesus gives us his very self, and he gives us healing, and forgiveness, and service in his name. And yet over the years I have met people who will say “if this would happen or that would happen I might believe, or I might be more inclined to believe what the Church says.”
Jesus gave us his teachings, and more than that he gave us his very self in the Holy Eucharist. He gave us Twelve Apostles to hand those teachings down, and those Apostles insured that they had successors, and that succession is still with us, that teaching is still with us, Jesus in the Holy Eucharist is still with us. And yet there are some, in whole or in part, who somehow need some other proof before they will decide that they need to obey Holy Mother Church of their own free will. There are some who claim to still need some proof that Jesus Christ is risen and his Gospel is real. The proof is before us even today…
Yet could it be said of some “ if they will not believe in the sacraments, or the Scriptures, or the magisterium of the Church, neither will they believe if someone should rise from the dead.”
Jesus wants us remember our neighbor and care for the suffering of others, and as far as proof that we need to do this, proof that the Gospel is real, proof that God exists? We have all the proof we need, so rather than look for more proof, let’s believe together on the proofs that he has already given us, and we’ll be far more likely to be eternally united with Christ, rather than eternally separated from Him.