The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for your home
September 25th, 2022 – Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 16:19-31
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We had “religion class” every day in the Catholic school I attended. But I can remember very little of what we were taught. Although I vividly still remember the story of the rich man and poor Lazarus, who are recalled in today’s gospel. It’s one of those stories that is hard to forget. It is vivid in detail and clearly an account where good eventually triumphs over evil. It is a story of great contrast.
The Gospel of Luke is often called the gospel of social justice. And the challenge it presents was as valid in the time of Jesus as it is today. In fact, the story actually makes reference to the time of Abraham, the Father of the Jewish religion. In other words, the moral teaching encased in this story is timeless.
What I notice most is that the rich man, who uses his riches solely for his personal satisfaction, lives in the immediate presence of poverty, especially as it is embodied in the condition of poor Lazarus, who is described as destitute, sickly and starving. Lazarus is lying right as his door! He had to be noticed by the rich man, perhaps daily.
But the rich man obviously didn’t care about him.
He ignores him. He sees no connection between himself (and his affluent lifestyle) and the poverty of Lazarus. This is despite the longstanding tradition within Judaism to care for the poor and needy. Note that both the rich man and Lazarus share the same religious tradition. They are brothers in belief, sons of Abraham, but strangers in practice.
Then we are told the end of the story. Lazarus goes to heaven and the rich man ends up in hell. But that’s not the main point of the story. Rather, it’s that there is an essential connection between what’s happening right now and what might be called ultimate reality. The past, the present and the future are connected.
So too is this true for us who live today. The poor we encounter may be members of our own families, or neighbors down the street or suffering people in distant lands. How each of us helps the Lazarus people of today is a matter of social justice and personal responsibility.
The gospel story end with the rich man asking that his brothers be told about how things work. How there is a connection between our moral lives here and what endures forever. In that spirit, we reflect on today’s gospel as personally given to us, so we know.
©David M. Thomas, PhD