Our Connecting Point question emerges from the content and dynamics of the story/parable/allegory from Jesus known as “the Rich Man and Lazarus,” which is our weekend’s Gospel reading found only in Luke. It is yet another Gospel passage which drops the heavy hammer on those with worldly wealth, in this parable particularly slamming the unawareness and/or uncaring of the rich man who does nothing for a fellow human right at his gate who’s suffering greatly and for a long time.
We do well to note Jesus is speaking to a group of Jewish men, the Pharisees, and that this story follows up on last week’s Gospel from Luke, from chapter 16, where Jesus finished saying, “you cannot be the servant of both God and money,” (money, a.k.a. mammon, which connotes being a servant to money as an object of worship and devotion). Luke then writes, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, … scoffed at Jesus,” Luke 16:14. A few verses later Jesus addresses this week’s Gospel passage to those Pharisees.
So yes, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus appears to push hard the Christian demand for those who are materially wealthy to take care of the poor and suffering near their “gate,” those people nearby. Notice that “gate” is the word used, the same word for entrance or exit to a city, or to a kingdom, and esp. note the New Testament says heaven and hell are gated. Is this parable meant to give us structural details of heaven and hell, and their distance and possible interactions? Most probably not! The warning primarily is that there could be a reversal of fortune after death for those whose lives were selfish on earth, and those whose earthly lives included hellish suffering and hungering. Jesus offers no back story on the delights of the rich man or the plight of Lazarus, so no moral evaluation and judgment of the two men are possible as the listener or reader of this story might like to engage in. And that’s where the hammer of the story really hits. There are some of the worldly rich who are so by immoral means. And there are some of the worldly impoverished who got that way through some type(s) of immoral means. Immediate needs can be best met without possible givers being negatively judgmental. Just as the wealthy are not to be immediately negatively judged, so also the same for the impoverished and needy, and vice-versa.
To have real compassion and understanding doesn’t mean we have to turn a blind eye to certain realities about others. However, we should seek to see the more complete story and offer the help others truly need. True interest in others is a willingness to learn about them, seeking an awareness of our common humanity. Jesus was the eyes, ears and throat specialist healer not only literally, but metaphorically: eyes are the eyes of the mind, heart, and soul to see which is to understand; ears are for taking in, not putting out, listening especially to the Word of God spoken by Jesus and written in the scriptures, and listening to what comes from the hearts of others; and a healthy throat can use speech to praise and promote God’s goodness and build up others. The more we are fully aware of the lives of others, compassion can take hold, avoiding immediate negative categorizing and harsh judgment. Ah-ha moments can come when we proverbially do that walking in another’s shoes.
Since our Christian lives are so spiritual, there is also spiritual wealth to share. There is an allegorical level to our story from Luke. In this story created by Jesus, we can interpret it wherein each character represents another real-life person or persons. At the allegorical level we can see Jesus criticizes some of his own fellow Jews for not opening the gate to the spiritual wealth they have, for hoarding it to themselves. The rich man represents the ones who isolate their faith and their status as Abraham’s children, of which could be ‘a spiritual wealth for the nations.’ Lazarus represents the Jewish people labeled as sinners and excluded, and the hungry and ill. Lazarus also depicts the Gentiles, all non-Jewish people who hunger for the Living God, and ultimately are among the ones in the bosom of Abraham as the Gospel of Christ goes out to the nations of the world. Jesus could level the same to his people of the church, Catholic and other Christian churches. The richness of our spiritual tradition and religion is meant to be shared, and all of us can do so through our own opportunities. We have been given the priorities of what matters to our Creator/God while we live this earthly existence which is our path to Heaven. Let’s keep the gate of our lives open for compassion and the sharing of our spiritual wealth.
Yours in Christ, Fr Matt Ellis