Twenty Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time C (2022) Boarbank Hall
Dives and Lazarus (Lk 16: 19-31)
It may seem easy to feel superior to Dives the rich man and identify entirely with Lazarus. After all the parable carries such a punch that it would be entirely silly not to get the point immediately. The pair are presented in such clear focus that the good man is distinguished from the bad man by the simple test of self-complacent egoism. Dives is a horrible man; he does not even see Lazarus at his gate. And Lazarus is miserable. The fact is that Dives is always taking care of himself, and Lazarus lies there doing nothing at all. He does not even drive the dogs away. He gets his reward simply by being poor, not by being good. Is this Luke letting us see the whole point in his Beatitudes- Blessed are the poor? The status of the poor makes them loved of God and accepted. They have no need of conversion at all? And the corollary is that the rich man has his reward now. Our Lord was certainly targeting the Pharisees who, Luke said, loved money (16:14)- and these laughed at him for his unworldly approach to things. The OT had no aversion to money; indeed it could be seen as a reward for faithful observance of the Law. Much of Luke’s chapter 16 is about people using their brains, recognizing their shortcomings and doing something about it. Experience is a guide. The unjust steward knew how to recoup when he could not repay his debt- he wrote off a lot of the debt of others to him, making friends, if necessary, with the mammon of iniquity.
The Parable and Reward
But suppose we say that today’s parable is also telling us about eschatology, what is going to happen in the next life- well that too is fascinating. Who would not want to be with Abraham? Though it may be a surprise for us Christians in heaven to be first of all with that OT figure, even though he is our father in faith. There is a real continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The addressees of the parable were first century Jews- at that time they would mainly have believed in an after life, even though the rich aristocrats, the Sadducees, did not. Had the auditors of Jesus been really speculative they might have been encouraged by the circumstances in which Abraham managed to get to heaven. After all he had laughed at God (Gn 17:16) and told lies and done strange things- handing over his wife Sarah for instance to the Egyptians (Gn 12:15) and trying it on again with Abimelech (Gn 20:2f.). But God was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and later for Christians the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. God had made Abraham the father of a people and all the nations of the earth would be blessed in him (Gn 12:3f.). He remained a figure of universal import, as St.Paul (Rom 9:7f.) would remind his Roman readers later. There is much to think about here: if heaven is for all so is God’s fair earth, and the goods that constitute it.
So what in practice should we make of the parable apart from the sheer obvious meaning that self indulgent riches are a recipe for disaster and should be avoided at all costs? Most of us are not likely to end up millionaires. And most of us as priests and religious are not going to end up dying of hunger either. All believers should think of poverty as a more polyvalent notion. Were we to apply it to our talents, for instance, that would not be a misdirection. We could backtrack in this same sixteenth chapter of Luke to v.10. We are told that those faithful in little things will be faithful in great. And that one cannot serve two masters. Better serve one however badly! But this involves what are called virtues-the continual habit of trying to do what is good and say what is right. It becomes a way of life.
Now we would all like to be good. Because at least we admire good in others. More than ever in the history of the world there is a consciousness of how the rich exploit the poor. The phrase “special option for the poor” was introduced during the Second Vatican Council(1962-5). The present pope chose Francis as his name- coming from Latin America where Liberation Theology was/is a major ecclesial concern he has made their concerns central to his ministry. Now that there is a worldwide economic recession, and people are everywhere feeling its effects, concern with poverty is not just an intellectual notion. People are visiting food banks more than ever. Children’s uniforms for school are often highlighted as parents try to cope. Dives did not even see Lazarus. People now see how unbridled profit making by big international companies are often blind to the needs of those being exploited. The energy crisis makes for a universal concern as to how the poor especially will be protected against the coming ravages of winter. Sick people cannot get to doctors and ambulances cannot get to them- speaking only of our privileged world. So we are invited to be far more attentive than we might normally be to the import of Christian teaching on poverty and riches. The pope’s is a universal message.
St.Luke in many ways was presenting a sobering message in a very vivid way. He had Our Lady say to Elizabeth: ‘He put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the humble’. He showed the primitive Christian community in Jerusalem sharing all things in common. Poverty and riches figure larger in his Gospel than in the others. But he showed also how rich women helped Jesus on his mission (Lk 8:1ff.). He showed how Paul lived, earning his own living, as he preached the gospel. He showed how Zacchaeus on conversion distributed his wealth. He showed how Jesus dined with sinners, and paid his taxes, and rendered to Caesar what was Caesar’s. He gave a realistic picture of how people lived and encouraged the correct attitude to living in believers. Once again we are faced with enormous danger coming from a source we had thought would never be a danger again. We are invited to be responsible in our relationships which make for peace. Today’s parable evokes so much reflection ! Amen.
Rev. Richard J. Taylor is the Spiritual Advisor for MaterCare International