26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Luke 16:19-31
“My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.”
As we consider the parable in today’s Gospel text, we are struck by the reality and the real possibility of hell. Not only is hell real, it is something that could befall any of us. Let me explain.
Even if we are among the few who actually believe that hell exists, there is still a great temptation to reserve damnation for only the most hardened criminals, those guilty of hideous and unspeakable crimes – murderers, child molesters, war criminals, etc. Only these select few, who are characterized as being so evil as to have nearly lost their humanity, only these will go to hell. And then we are confronted with today’s Gospel.
The Rich Man
It strikes me that we know almost nothing about Dives, the rich man. Perhaps we assume that he is wicked and heartless, but this is not said explicitly. All we know is that he was rich and Lazarus was poor. Perhaps the rich man had a family, perhaps he was a good father and husband. Perhaps he went to the synagogue every week and was an upstanding member of his community. What is more, we have no reason to think that the rich man did not help the poor! He may have given to other poor people, he may have contributed to the local food bank (or equivalent thereof), he may have had a habit of giving a little something to many who were in need – he may have even tithed. We really don’t know.
What we do know is this: whatever else that rich man did in his life, he did not help Lazarus when he was in need. Perhaps he helped others, but he did not give alms to this particular poor man – this alone lead to his eternal damnation. This one sin – that he rejected a single poor person when he had wealth left over – this cries out to heaven. When even a single person who begs from us remains poor, to be rich is a mortal sin. A sin which will hurl us into hell.
The rich and the poor today
Has anything changed in 2000 years? Perhaps this: if the rich man ignored Lazarus and deprived him of his necessities, at least he allowed him to sit and beg. In our world today, the presence of a poor man begging at our door would most likely lead us to call the police and have him taken away. If the rich man ignored the cry of the poor, we live in a society which systematically suffocates the poor man’s cry!
Some day we will all understand what Jesus really meant when he said, “Blessed are you poor, but woe to you who are rich!” Without almsgiving, how shall we ever inherit life everlasting?
John Paul II (encyclical letter Centesimus Annus, 1991): “It will be necessary above all to abandon a mentality in which the poor – as individuals and as a people – are considered a burden, as irksome intruders trying to consume what others have produced.”