Wednesday, September 21, 2016

September 25, 2016 - The Rich Man and Lazarus

The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Image result for the parable of the rich man and lazarus

Reading I: Amos 6: 1a, 4-7
Response: Psalm 146
Reading II:  1 Timothy 6: 11- 16
Gospel: Luke 16: 19-31

Is there anything wrong with being rich?  Jesus seems to focus on the dangers of being rich. He says that it is easier for a camel to pass through a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. Of course, the “needle” is not a sewing needle.  However, even though he is referring to a narrow passageway in the mountains through which shepherds and herders needed to lead their animals, we wonder why he stresses this.   

It seems obvious that we need to share with those who are needy. But, there seems to be more to it. Eleanor Stump, professor of philosophy at St. Louis University, sheds some light on this when she points out the words used in the Gospel. When the rich man is in hell, he asks the Lord to send Lazarus, who is resting in the bosom of the Lord, to get him some water to quench his thirst.  When the Lord refuses, the rich man asks God to send Lazarus to his brothers to warn them about the folly of riches. The Lord refuses again. Why? Perhaps the Lord is reacting to the rich man’s basic attitude of seeing Lazarus as only useful to him. He doesn’t consider him a brother, as an equal. Rather he chooses only to use him for his own purposes. Even the dogs lick the wounds of Lazarus as they do for themselves and one another. They have compassion and try to heal him. 

The rich who are poor in spirit reach out and share with the poor. The poor recognize those who have a superior attitude and those who see them as brothers and sisters. At the 125th jubilee celebration for the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, Bishop Curtis J Guillory, SVD, of the Beaumont, Texas Diocese, shared his experiences with the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. He made a comment which touched me. He said that the Sisters “engaged” with the people. In other words, they became a part of the people with whom they ministered. They realized that they were enriched themselves by the poor they served.

Another view is expressed by Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI. He reminds us that for our own physical,
psychological and spiritual health, we need to share. Our Native American brothers and sisters have retained that generosity of spirit by some of their customs. For example, when I young man has success hunting a deer, the family has a “deer supper.” I was invited to one by one of our Pueblo Sisters from Laguna, New Mexico. Before the meal the skull of the deer was placed on a side table. The mother of the young hunter blessed her son and thanked the deer for giving its life to feed the people. Then, everyone in the village and friends were invited to partake in the meal. They took turns eating in silence and moved on so others could have a place at the table. While waiting for a turn at the table, people were watching a ballgame on TV and chatting. It was like two worlds in one house.

Another custom is that on birthdays, the one being celebrated is the giver of gifts. Of course, in today’s world they probably receive gifts also. However, the custom reminds them that they are
here to share with others also. On special holy days, they have “throws.” Items like candy, blankets, etc. are thrown from flat adobe rooftops for anyone to take.  

A real challenge comes when a relative is in financial need, e.g. because of alcohol or drug problems. The expectation is that the relative with some resources will provide for the needy one. Therefore, it is difficult for them to save for future needs of their own family. Nevertheless, they do have the sense that accumulating too much is unhealthy.

It is healthy to share because it prevents one from becoming too self-centered. One of the first things that many mothers teach their small children is to share treats that they receive and to share their toys. That can be a difficult lesson, but an important one. Young people who are encouraged to do some type of service to help others experience a sense of pride and joy. It feels good and is a wonderful experience for them and those they help. That is good for people of all ages. God our Father and Jesus know what we need for a healthy and happy life. It is not to hold tightly onto wealth. Rather it is to share our time, talent, and treasures with our brothers and sisters.


  1. Sharing is vitally important for a good Christian life. Jesus instructed us very clearly when He said, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Of course, circumstances alter cases, but we sincerely try to interpret our Lord's words as they were actually intended and we realize that this love sometimes involves giving whatever is really needed if at all possible. Incidentally, isn't it delightful that God actually wants us to love ourselves - (in the right way, of course)?

    In a general audience about Psalm 146, Pope Paul II said:

    "We must live in consistency with the divine will, offer food to the hungry, visit prisoners, sustain and comfort the sick, protect and welcome foreigners, devote ourselves to the poor and lowly. In practice, this corresponds exactly to the spirit of the Beatitudes; it means opting for that proposal of love which saves us already in this life and will later become the object of our examination at the last judgment. ...
    "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me" (Mt 25:40). This is what the Lord will say at that time."

    Probably, most of us are familiar with the following quotation from Mother Teresa:

    "At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by: 'I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in.' - Hungry not only for bread - but hungry for love, Naked not only for clothing - but naked for human dignity and respect. - Homeless not only for a room of bricks - but homeless because of rejection."
    Mother Teresa

    1. Dear Sr. Therese Mary,
      Thank you for the beautiful quote of Mother Teresa. With so much distraction in daily life it is very easy to miss someone hungry for love, naked for human dignity and respect, and homeless because of rejection. It requires that we take time to notice others so we can see, hear, or feel their pain.

  2. Sr. Annette,
    A couple of things came up for me while reading your post. Professor Trump’s position that we should regard the needy as our brothers and sisters – our equals – brought to mind that sometimes fear causes by passers to avoid eye contact with someone who is poor or homeless or infirmed. Obviously such behavior on our part would contribute to disconnect – a comfortable distancing as opposed to seeing that person as our equal. I have heard this gospel story for decades, yet for the very first time I understand the statement about the dogs licking the wounds of Lazarus. I didn’t realize that they were showing compassion and trying to heal his sores.
    In stark contrast to distancing ourselves from another, engaging (Bishop Guillory’s word), communicates dynamic involvement. Years of volunteering at the soup kitchen provided the opportunity to step into the daily life of the poor and truly know what poverty, hunger, rejection, and isolation feels like. Sharing a meal, heartfelt kindness, and laughter united us. All of us were enriched by that time shared; the perceived barriers disappeared. Yet, I can recall times that I ignored a homeless person on the street because it would have been inconvenient to rummage through my purse, find my wallet and pull out a couple of dollars. Not only did I neglect to contribute to the wellbeing of a sister or brother in need, I missed the opportunity to serve Jesus by doing a small act of kindness to one of God’s beloved, neglected children. I mourned that I was so indifferent and insensitive to the plight of someone in need. I also missed out on receiving the joy that fills our soul when we act in accordance with our mission. We were created to care, to share, and to alleviate another’s suffering.
    The Gospel contains several lessons. Jesus distinguishes between heaven and hell, making clear the reality that they are authentic places in eternity. The angels carried Lazarus “to the bosom of Abraham,” and the rich man went to the “netherworld.” Having been raised Catholic, the Baltimore Catechism as well as general religious instruction of my youth taught that the good went to heaven and the bad went to hell. This position seems to have softened over time as many popular individuals considered to be spiritual teachers express a belief that we all make mistakes, are loved unconditionally by God, the Universe, the One Mind, etc., and we are all on our journey Home. The focus is on returning “Home” – hell is not mentioned; perhaps many of us have forgotten it exists.
    The theme of challenge for rich people to enter heaven is repeated in this gospel. Jesus offers numerous instructions for us to be mindful of our riches (time, talents and treasures) and to share them with others.
    It is written in this passage that “a great chasm” exists between heaven and hell that prevents crossing over – a powerful reminder that judgment is permanent. If judged to hell we will be eternally separated from God.
    Lastly, the rich man asks that Lazarus be permitted to go to his brothers so that they would repent. Abraham’s response is that if they don’t heed Moses and the prophets, they will not change their behaviors for Lazarus. Abraham’s statement is still pertinent for us today – what will it take to turn our disbelief into faith?