26th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)
“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day.” [Luke 16:19-31]
Jesus said to the Pharisees us.
“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.”
Two men lived in close proximity to one another but under very different circumstances, one was wealthy, the other was destitute. Eventually, they both died and went on to the afterlife. The storyline zooms in on a conversation between the former man of privilege, now tormented by the fires in the Netherworld, and Abraham, in whose excellent company the other man, Lazarus, now rested.
In life, privileged people step over the Lazarus’s every day, walk by them, and even know their names. Did the rich man, while lifting his purple robe so as to not brush against the beggar’s wounds as he stepped out of his house, ever think about Lazarus, or drop him a stale crust? Or did he simply look the other way, tsk tsk’ing about lazy people who do nothing all day and expect handouts from hardworking, tax-paying citizens?
The world exists, some might have us believe, for our pleasure. The rich man probably felt he earned the purple garments, fine linen, and sumptuous dining. He worked hard for them, dammit. The poor, wounded man lying outside his door was not his concern. His sole concern was for himself.
But in death, the formerly privileged man found himself in poor man’s place, begging Abraham to make Lazarus help him. Still, even in death he saw himself as one to be served. Not a single word of remorse for his lack of charity was included with his pleas to Abraham to have Lazarus comfort him, not a moment of regret for his astonishing selfishness in life, not a thought for anyone else, except perhaps for his equally self-absorbed brothers. “If you can’t make Lazarus help me, at least send him to my family!”
Too late, Abraham tells him. It’s too damn late.
This parable, which is the gospel reading for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, is not a prescription for getting to heaven. What it is is a starkly accurate portrayal of modern day attitudes towards the vulnerable, and one that really needs to be taken to heart.
Some might say, “Oh this story is so obvious. It’s exaggerated: just a simple morality play.” Some may protest, “The problem of the poor is so much more complicated than that, we can’t just give to everybody who asks us.” Really? Is opening our wallet and putting some cash into the hand of a person experiencing homelessness going to lead to the impoverishment of our families?
This parable ought to help us open our eyes and hearts to what we can do to alleviate the world’s suffering, even, and especially if it means making room in our homes, churches, and communities for refugees.
Meanwhile, a 6-year old boy named Alex from Scarsdale, NY sees on television the stunned, dust and blood covered face of a boy about his age, the victim of bombing in a far-off place, and delivers the purest, most uncontaminated contemporary translation of Jesus’ story about the rich man and Lazarus.
In a handwritten letter to the President of the United States, Alex asks “can you please go get him and bring him to our home?” These words flowed from the tender, unsullied heart of a child. “We will give him a family and he will be our brother.”
This is a parable for the ages, and we are living it right now. Alex and generations of children are watching, expecting us to do the right thing.