In our Lectionary cycle, every Sunday there is typically a thematic connection between the First Reading and the Gospel. Sometimes, the Second Reading fits in there too, but that’s simply a bonus. Today, this is important, I think, to help us understand the significance of Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus. We hear a familiar story – one of contrasts: the rich man, dressed opulently, living well, and “dining sumptuously each day”; and Lazarus, covered in sores (where did they come from?), poor, hungry and alone.
After they die, we see the expected reversal of roles that we have come to see with regard to the Kingdom of God: Lazarus in comfort, and the rich man in torment. The easy lesson that we can draw from this is that we should be mindful of the poor and care for them.
What was the rich man’s failure? Being wealthy? Certainly not. Being rich is not a sin; it is not wrong to have wealth. Notice that we never hear that Lazarus wants to live in the man’s house, wear his clothes, or even eat at his table (he was happy just to have the scraps that fell from the table). And Jesus does not flatly praise Lazarus’ poverty here either. Certainly, Christ has a preference for the poor, but in and of itself this poverty is not praiseworthy.
Here is where the First Reading’s connection gives me a sense of what the lesson for us is. The prophet Amos begins, “Woe to the complacent in Zion!” The “complacent.” When we are complacent, we are satisfied – even self-satisfied – happy with our way of life, our opinions, our culture, our perspectives. This complacency, then, closes us off to others – even leading us to dismiss them.
That is what was so wrong with the rich man. He knew Lazarus (notice that he calls him by name in his appeal to Abraham). This guy was “that poor man who sat outside my house.” In life, even with their economic contrasts, they were very near one another. Now, there is the chasm – a chasm forged by complacency.
I think that is this the lesson for us today – especially given the social woes that we are facing in our city, nation, and world. We become complacent and accept the fact that “that’s just the way it is.” What is the remedy to this complacency – because I feel myself affected by it as well? I believe that it is understanding and dialogue. It is getting to know one another’s stories, rather than simply taking on an easy label.
Never accept a label instead of a story!
We all have them. In fact, there was a story behind each of Lazarus’ sores – behind Lazarus himself. He was more than a label – and so are we.
This is what life is like – a story of stories. Every one of us has them, and our community is forged as these stories intersect. In our nation, we can grow closer by listening to them. In our own neighborhoods, we can grow closer to those in need and those who are marginalized.
As a parish, we are blessed to serve the poor both locally and globally, and we should be proud of that fact. Through our parish’s St. Vincent DePaul ministry, we are able to reach out to our neighbors – literally at our doorsteps – and help them when they need assistance the most. Our fellow parishioners who share in this ministry can tell you stories about “those people” – the ones whom society would rather simply label and keep at arm’s length. Through your support – financial and material – we become a source of comfort and dignity for these neighbors – real people with real stories. St. Vincent DePaul helps us fight complacency.
This is why, as a parish, we are committed to supporting both the ministry of St. Vincent DePaul and our Haiti Outreach – to assist our neighbors in need both near and far. Talk to our friends here who participate in these ministries and you will learn about how we are literally clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, instructing the ignorant, and visiting the sick. The stories will raise up your hearts.
It’s easy to label someone and then dismiss them. That was the sin of the rich man. That is what created the vast chasm that could not be crossed. In our life here, there is no such chasm – unless we put it there. We still have the chance to listen and reach out to one another.
With attention to these stories, we can even become better evangelizers. Listen to your brothers and sisters you have fallen away. Understand their pain, their confusion, their fear. Only then can you bring Jesus’ saving love into their lives. It is He who listens to your story and makes you part of His. May we always be open to learn more about our brothers and sisters so we can see them included in this wonderful story of salvation.