There is a very damning picture painted of the rich in today’s readings. The wealthy are enjoying lives of luxury, eating and drinking of the best, totally out of touch with real life, while people on the fringes of society are burdened with poverty. Time runs out for them, roles are suddenly reversed; poverty is changed to wealth, and riches to misery. But don’t get the idea that only the obscenely wealthy are being reprimanded. Remember that the people to whom Our Lord addressed this parable were very poor by our standards. Our Lord had a message for them just as he has a message for us today. This is a Gospel call to brotherly and fraternal care. If we truly love, then we will share our possessions; we will share our talents and our time with those who are marginalized. Greed gets to us because we are basically selfish; and greed, in all its forms, is something we have to fight against. The Gospel costs us our comforts because it makes inroads on our pockets and our wallets. And when our own interest is involved, self-deception is all too easy. We can always find an excuse not to be generous.
Tradition has given the rich man mentioned in the gospel today the name of Dives: now, he didn’t beat Lazarus and he was never deliberately cruel to him, nor did he deny him any food. What Dives didn’t do was to take notice of Lazarus or recognise him as his brother. This was his sin: he did nothing. How often is it our sin? Dives is cut off from God and suffers torment in Hades not for being rich, well fed and well dressed, but because he cut himself off from helping his brother. He ignored the poor man standing on his own doorstep, and closed his heart in the face of the human misery that confronted him every day. Lazarus provided Dives with a perfect opportunity to exercise charity, along with an opportunity to overcome selfishness and to attain eternal salvation. Our Lord’s parable also teaches us that Heaven is prepared for us while we are still on earth, during this life we live now.
The conversation between Dives and Abraham at the end of the gospel, where Dives asks to be allowed to convey a special message of warning to his five brothers, misses the point completely, because his brothers are also insensitive and uncaring. They have the words of scripture and the prophets to teach them, and that should be shock treatment enough.
In a sense we are the five brothers who are still alive. God’s message is there for us all to hear. The words of Our Lord, immortalised in scripture are addressed to us: “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did it to one of the least of these brothers of mine you did it to me.” Those words are addressed to us. And so now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation. Not tomorrow or next week but today. We have heard the Word; we know what God’s will is for us: so how will we respond? Nobody is exempt from responsibility for the less fortunate members of society. We have obligations to the poor at home as well as the poor overseas. The little we have now we must share. If we choose to ignore the pleas of the orphan and the widow, the sick and the lonely, the hungry, the dispossessed, the refugee, then we will pay the price.
And so this is an opportunity to ask ourselves the question: what am I doing for the poor and needy? Do I spend all my money on myself or am I generous? Am I generous to the point of hurting myself? Do I take notice of the poor and the oppressed who are around me? Wherever we look there is sorrow to be comforted, there is need to be supplied, pain to be relieved. Do we realise that to have a job in the present economic climate is to be privileged? Are we conscious that the unemployed are the new oppressed in our society, part of the new belt of misery growing on the fringes of every town? The poor are a challenge. By our attitude we can show that people matter more than possessions. People are more precious for what they are, than the job they do, or the money they earn.
God is calling us to make ourselves shining examples of faith in these difficult times of growing injustice and self-seeking.