The Twenty-sixth Sunday of the Year (C)
Dear brothers and sisters,
Said Abraham to the rich man now suffering torment, “My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented” (Luke 16:25). Are we then to infer from this statement that the afterlife is simply a reversal of the present life? Of course not!
While a reversal is indeed the case here, we need not be too simplistic with this story. We need not assume the rich man found misery in the life to come simply because he was rich in this life; likewise, we should not assume that Lazarus found comfort in the life to come simply because he was poor. Rather, Lazarus found comfort because – in the midst of his poverty - he was close to God; the rich man found misery because – in the midst of his riches – he was apathetic to the needs of the poor and, therefore, far from God.
The Psalmist today sings, “The LORD raises up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the just” (Psalm 146:9). Lazarus received his comfort because he had been bowed down; the rich man received his torments because he was not just.
It must be remembered that it was the dogs that came to clean Lazarus’ sores; the dogs treated him as an equal and one of their own, while the rich man dined sumptuously and lifted not a finger to care for the poor man dying at his door.
Commenting on this passage, Saint Jerome said to the rich man:
Most wretched of men, you see a member of your own body lying there outside at your gate, and you have no compassion? If the laws of God mean nothing to you, at least take pity on your own situation and be in fear, for perhaps you might become like him. Give what you waste to your own member. I am not telling you to throw away your wealth. What you throw out, the crumbs from your table, offer as alms (Saint Jerome, On Lazarus and Dives in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, ed. Thomas C. Oden, et al (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2003), 260-261).How easy it would have been for the rich man to help Lazarus and it would have cost him nothing, save a small amount of time; yet, he offered him no assistance. Of him, Cyril of Alexandria said, “The rich man was crueler than the dogs, because he felt no sympathy or compassion for him but was completely unmerciful” (Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke III in ibid., 261).
Here, then, we come to the reason for the rich man’s torment: he showed no mercy to Lazarus. In another place, the Lord Jesus declared, “the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” (Matthew 7:2). In this life the rich man showed no mercy and so in the life to come he received none.
Last Sunday we considered the authentic common good of society and our obligation to promote and safeguard it, given the circumstances of our lives. We saw that the common good always involves three things: first, respect for the individual person; second, the well-being and development of society; and, third, peace, by which is meant security and stability. It is easy to see that in his lack of compassion toward Lazarus, the rich man violated the common good on all three levels and for this reason he suffered eternal torment.
The Lord Jesus Christ has told us the way to share the comfort Lazarus received, and still more besides: it is the way of the love of God and of neighbor.
At the Last Judgment he will separate humanity into two groups, as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. To those on his right, who provided for the needs of the poor, he will say, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). But to those on his left, who did not provide for the needs of the poor, he will say, “‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:45-46).
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have reminded us that “in the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Bishops of the United States (2007), 13). We must use our political voice under the guidance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for our salvation may well depend on it. Will we use our voices for good, for the aid of those most vulnerable among us, or will we use our voices for evil, for selfishness and greed?
The rich man cared only for himself and for his riches and found great torment after his death. Let us learn from his example and show compassion toward the weak and poor among us. Let us use our voices for good, that we might help to build a just and civil society and that the Lord may raise us up and seat us at his table in his heavenly kingdom.
If we participate in the political realm united in all things to the faith of Jesus Christ, we will heed well the admonition of the Apostle: “keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Timothy 6:14). Amen.