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The parable of the rich man and Lazarus

Gospel Reading: Lk 16:19-31
Jesus said to the Pharisees: “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. 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. And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.

Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’ He said, ‘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.’ ”

The contrast between the rich and the poor during Amos’ time was like night and day. The rich wore purple and ate caviar. Their table groaned with delectable and exotic foods. The rich partied like there was no tomorrow; life was one magical delight of the senses! The poor, on the other hand, saw everything in gray, the color of ash. For them, today appeared no different from yesterday or tomorrow since all their life was about backbreaking work in the farm, under the scorching heat of the sun.

These farmhands received very little wages, often delayed and at times even withheld by the wealthy landlords. The cry of the poor reached the heavens, and God answered them through Amos. This prophet minced no words and spoke of God’s decision to bring this situation of iniquity to a decisive end. Assyria would conquer Israel, and places of profligacy like the royal palaces would be torn down.

The insensitive elite would be exiled to Nineveh to pay for their crimes. The wealthy of Israel brought ignominy upon themselves by their shameless actions. Their extravagant lifestyle alienated the poor of the land who at first distrusted, then hated, their leaders. Israel as a nation imploded due to the hubris and insensitivity of the elite, thus making it easy for Assyria to conquer the divided people. Evil can also attack us when we exaggerate our needs and desires, and when we start to become overly concerned about our own well-being or that of our significant circle of family and friends.

Jesus cites as an example the story of the rich man in the Gospel. This rich man does not oppress Lazarus, unlike the wealthy during Amos’ time who trampled the poor. The rich man, however, suffers the torments of hell because he did not show any compassion or concern towards Lazarus, his poor neighbor. Jesus does not have the illusion that poverty can be eradicated during his lifetime. The world remained poor even after his resurrection and ascension, and it continues to be poor even today.

Jesus does not romanticize poverty but in fact teaches us how to better our situation in life. He shows this by not amassing wealth for himself and, among other things, by teaching the ignorant masses, feeding the hungry, and healing the sick. In Jesus’ attempt to help alleviate the living conditions of people, he is challenging us to put aside our selfish concerns and use our wealth responsibly. Jesus is asking us to adopt a proactive stance towards helping our needy neighbors. In the face of teeming poverty in our midst, no Christian worthy of the name can remain idle or afford to be a bystander.

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SOURCE: “366 Days with the Lord,” ST PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 895-9701; Fax 895-7328; E-mail: publishing@stpauls.ph; Website: http://www.stpauls.ph.