There is a common enough phrase in military circles; ‘rank has its privileges’. It means that based on someone’s rank, they are somehow entitled to special treatment, special favour; the higher the rank, the more the privileges.
In our gospel passage from St. Luke today, we hear the parable of the rich man and the poor man Lazarus. Among many other things, this parable which Jesus shares with a group of Pharisees who Luke says, ‘loved money’, speaks to the illusion that worldly position somehow has a connection to God’s view of a person’s value.
The rich man in this parable identifies himself as one of the chosen people, a son of Abraham, when he speaks to ‘Father Abraham’. He is expecting that this identification as a son of Abraham is enough to save him from the torments of Hades, or at the very least, should be of some value in asking that he receive some merciful relief (cool water) from Lazarus who had been starving at the rich man’s gate. In fact, he never appears to recognize that his time of privilege and comfort is over – he continues to ask ‘Father’ Abraham for favours. “…send Lazarus to my father’s house…” He seems to be stuck in his thinking of privilege.
At no time, does the rich man acknowledge that, as a son of Abraham, he had a responsibility to Lazarus during his lifetime; the rich man could not plead ignorance because he even knew who Lazarus was – he spoke of him by name! He never acknowledges that as a child of Israel, he had been given the law and the prophets! He had completely forgotten that the heart of the law was mercy and compassion; and in the heart of that law, he was to care for the suffering and marginalized, the dying and the poor. In other words, according to the law of God handed down through Moses and the prophets, he should not have neglected Lazarus, who was suffering and starving right in front of him.
Despite all of his wealth and comfort, his power and privilege, he couldn’t even spare the scraps of his table for another ‘son of Abraham’ who was dying at his very gate. He was caught up in his own indulgence, secure in the thought that he was blessed with abundance and so blessed because he was a ‘son of Abraham’, that nothing was expected of him. Lazarus wasn’t his problem; Lazarus obviously wasn’t blessed by God because he was poor!
An ironic twist here is that in the culture that Jesus is relating this parable, and quite often today too, people looked upon wealth and abundance as a sign of God’s favour. The rich were blessed by God; which would conversely mean the poor did not enjoy God’s favour – they were not blessed by God.
Yet, Jesus in the parable places the poor man Lazarus at the rich man’s gate. God places one who is ‘not blessed’ in front of the one who ‘is blessed’; why? So that the rich man would have an opportunity to care for the poor; so that the rich man could truly be blessed in providing for and sharing with the one who was apparently not granted material blessings. The poor man Lazarus becomes an opportunity of grace for the rich man. The poor man hasn’t received a blessing – the poor man is a blessing.
But the rich man ignores Lazarus and any grace and blessing he might receive from God; not just once or twice, but apparently through his entire life. His preoccupation with wealth and possession becomes his downfall. In essence, his perceived blessing in life, becomes his curse in death.
This parable should serve as a wake up call to Christians, because it explodes the myth that eternity with God is not based on what we call ourselves or how we perceive ourselves to be blessed by God. Eternity with God is determined by how we live out our claim to be His children. God offers the free gift of salvation, but if we do not live in right relation with Him and with each other, then we aren’t really open to receiving the blessing of that gift!
Whether it is a person or a practice, we all have a ‘Lazarus’ situation in our lives. If we look deeply enough, we can see people who have perhaps been overlooked, who need our help in one way or another. Perhaps we have neglected our spouse; as a parent, maybe we have not spent time with our children. Maybe we have a co-worker who is ignored and isolated on the job; maybe a classmate at school who isn’t part of the ‘in crowd’ because they don’t have the latest fashions or gadgets.
We can see things we have neglected in our own faith journey; devotional prayer; study of Sacred Scripture; participating in the Sacraments; following the teachings of the Church, because we were too busy focusing on material wealth or social standing. Maybe these ‘Lazarus moments’ of grace have passed us by.
The good news is that we can still open up to these moments. We can open up our eyes, physical and spiritual, to see the presence of Jesus in those around us in need. We can share our blessings of time and possessions and our very selves with those who need us most. We can open up the gates of our hearts, and to go out and meet the Lazarus’s of this world – and in so doing, welcome Jesus back in through those same gates into our hearts and lives.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!