(Before reading the reflection, take a moment and read the Gospel, or better yet, have someone read it to you. The Good News is meant to be heard.)
In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus tells another parable. This is his best way of teaching. He makes us do some work to figure out what he wants us to know.
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.
Jesus, being Jewish, studies holy scripture. From scripture, Jewish people learn that God gives them a very important task—to be a holy people. They learn about mitzvot —holy obligations—tasks that help repair the world and bring about peace. In this way, they develop relationship with God. These sacred tasks are performed within the community. For the Jewish people, therefore, community is very important. These mitzvot include clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, caring for the poor. There is also an important obligation to show hospitality. These are ancient commands, holy obligations, dating from the time of Moses, more than five hundred years before Jesus was born.
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.
In the parable, Jesus leaves the rich man unnamed. Why?
We know the names of our family, our friends, our teachers, and people in our community. Who are the people whose names we do not know?
Strangers. People who are not part of the community.
We know then, that even though the rich man lives near Lazarus, he has separated himself from the community.
This Jewish man has forgotten the importance of community.
And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.
Jesus gives a name to the poor man, so we know that Lazarus is part of the community. His name means, "God is my help." This shows us that Lazarus is a man of faith.
Lazarus is hungry. Why is he not being fed? He lies at the rich man's gate; he is obviously poor and sick.
Is the rich man performing his holy obligation to care for the poor?
No, he is not.
Does he perform the mitzvah of hospitality and welcome Lazarus into his home?
No, he does not.
This Jewish man ignores his holy obligations to repair the world.
The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.
When Lazarus dies, he is embraced and comforted by Abraham. Abraham is the first person to learn that there is One True God. He is considered the father of all the Jewish people. Lazarus is a member of the family.
The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.
When the rich man dies, he realizes—finally—how isolated he has made himself, separated from Abraham. He is not considered a member of the family.
When the rich man realizes that he cannot change this situation, he asks Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers about what will happen to them if they do not care for the poor. But Abraham replies,
‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’
The rich man cannot say that he did not know any better, can he? All Jewish people know Moses and the prophets who speak of caring for the poor. The rich man made the choice to remove himself from community and to isolate himself from the sacred tasks to heal the world.
Why is Jesus telling us this parable? To scare us?
Or does he tell it to remind us of what we already know?
We have Moses and the prophets, too, and we have Jesus—the One who is Risen from the dead. At our Baptism, we begin a relationship with God within the community of faith. We are given the mission to share in the building of the Kingdom of God.
It is our mission; it is our calling; it is our holy obligation.
Jesus is clear; caring for the poor is perhaps the most important thing we can do.
We have to ask ourselves, then, who are the poor in our community?
Who has a need that we can help?
Can we pretend, like the rich man, like we do not know?
Perhaps the next time we care for the poor, we can give thanks to God for letting us share in the building of the Kingdom. We offer our gratitude for the community in which we live our mission, our calling, our holy obligation.