Reflection for Sunday – September 25, 2022
Readings: Amos 6: 1a, 4-7; 1Timothy 6: 11-16; Luke 16: 19-31
Preacher: Cathy Kamp
This Sunday’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus takes me back to when Pope Francis declared the Year of Mercy in 2015-2016. At that time the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization and Our Sunday Visitor published The Parables of Mercy, a way of studying the parables and the teachings of Jesus on the endless mercy of God the Father.
The sixth chapter of this parables book was called “the Opposite of Mercy” because it was all about this week’s Gospel. Luke’s story of the rich man and Lazarus begins like so many other parables of mercy but it concludes quite differently.
The nameless rich man’s offenses are evident almost immediately. He lived lavishly and ignored “a poor man named Lazarus” who suffered at his gate.
Soon the story shifts to both men in the afterlife. In contrast to their earthly existences, after death, Lazarus lies in heaven in the bosom of Abraham. The rich man finds himself in Hades and “in torment.” Seeing Lazarus far off with Abraham, the rich man begs for his help twice—once asking for relief from his own suffering and when that is not granted, he asks to have Lazarus warn his brothers to change their ways.
Both times when the rich man asks for help, he addresses Lazarus by name. The authors of The Parables of Mercy tell us, “He thus condemns himself through his own words. He knew exactly who Lazarus was during his earthly life, but he had always ignored him.” Because of this revelation, the rich man is not granted mercy as so many others are in the Gospels: the Samaritan woman and the prodigal son are but two examples.
It would seem there is a very important message for us to take away from this Gospel! According to The Parables of Mercy the message can be summarized this way: “It is not wealth or poverty that guarantees or excludes a positive or negative outcome at the Last Judgement but the ability or inability to see and feel compassion for the other.”
This parable seems inextricably tied to the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. Here Jesus is explicit that anytime we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick or imprisoned, and welcome the stranger we are doing these works of mercy for him. Likewise, when we ignore the needs of “the least of these,” we ignore Christ himself. The rich man, knowing who Lazarus was, knowing he was lying there at his own door, chose not to feed or provide for any of Lazarus’ needs. His lack of care for his poor neighbor is the very opposite of the compassion that God expects of us in this life.
This parable is a stark reminder that our salvation is not all about who we are in isolation or who we are in private prayer. Our salvation is all about how we reach out and take care of our neighbors as a response to the mercy we have received from God. God’s mercy is lavished abundantly upon each of us throughout our lives but it is not ours for the keeping—God’s mercy is meant to be shared through our compassionate, personal response to the needs of others.
Pope Francis has made the point in homilies that this parable points to two gifts, two pathways of faith. One gift is “the other,” our neighbors.
The second gift comes from the words of Abraham when he tells the rich man why his brothers cannot be addressed by Lazarus: “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced by someone who rises from the dead.” It is the living Word of God that can change hearts and open hearts to the needs of others.
May we take this week to pray with the Word of God and reflect on how we are doing with loving and caring for the needs of our neighbors, especially those who have the least.