THE “RICH” POOR MAN AND THE “POOR” RICH LAZARUS: HOMILY FOR THE 26TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (C). Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

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There is no guess as to who wants to be rich or not; everyone desires it consciously or unconsciously. On the other hand, nobody wants to be poor. In fact for many people, poverty is a disease which should be avoided. In any case, the disarming truth is that there will always be the rich and the poor (Mark 14:7) we can only work on closing the gap as much as we can.

The gospel reading today has so much drama in it that it could make an interesting movie with sights and sounds of the rich, the poor, animals, cemetery, angels, Abraham, heaven and hell etc. The narrative opens by telling us about a rich man who was gorgeously dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. However at the man’s gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, who was covered with sores and desired to feed from the scrap from the rich man’s table but had no access. Next, dogs came to lick up his wounds.

 Taking an active look in this first part of the narrative we discover so many things .The rich man’s name was not given. Biblically when a name is omitted there is always a reason. In this context he can represent anyone of us. Next he was dressed gorgeously in purple which is the colour of royalty and fine linen which indicates high taste. Next, his menu was exceptionally packed every day that means he never lacked food supply. On the other hand we are presented with a poor man who is fortunately named Lazarus (Eliezer) a name which means “God will help”; the name actually anticipates what will become of him at the end of the story. He was found at the gate of the rich man (that means outside the premises). Though there was surplus food in the rich man’s house he could not get even a scrap of bread from the rich man’s table. He was not only poor he was also sick as he was covered with sores and that too was not attended to by anyone except that the dogs who were his close associates would occasionally come around to lick the sores which could have also infected the sores.

In the next section of the narrative, death creeps in. We are told that Lazarus died and he was carried off by angels to the bosom of Abraham in heaven. Next the rich man also died and was buried but found himself in Hades (hell). There in torments he looked up and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he asked Father Abraham to have mercy on him and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool his tongue in his anguish in the flames. Abraham answered him and reminded him that during their lifetime on earth he received good things while Lazarus received evil things but now the situation has reversed; Lazarus is comforted and he is in anguish. Furthermore Abraham made it clear to him that there is a big gap (chasm) between him and them that prevents movements from either side.

Looking at this second section, we immediately come in contact with the phenomenon of death. That both Lazarus and the rich man died is an indication that death is a facility that is open to everyone both poor and rich alike. Lazarus could have died out of his poverty stricken condition and his deteriorated health condition and the rich man could have also died on account of any of the high standard illnesses like high blood pressure, cancer, heart failure and so on. The fact is that something must bring us to death at some point. From the narrative there was no mention of burial organized for Lazarus. May be when he was found dead, his body was shovelled and thrown into a forest or a valley. But his soul was not thrown away as he was peacefully carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham in heaven. The word of God assures us that the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God and no torment shall touch them (Wisdom 3:1-6). Another striking fact here is the inclusion of Abraham in the narrative. The person of Abraham is significant in the whole of the bible as he is seen as the father of all and a man of unwavering faith in God (Heb.11:17-19). Furthermore when he was on earth Lazarus had nobody by his side but now he is blessed with the enviable company of Abraham.

Still on the second section of the narrative, the rich man also died and was buried. He must have been given a lavishly stunning State burial with all the high and mighty in attendance. However behind the scene he was found in Hades (hell) and in great torment. While receiving eternal burning the rich man looked up and from a far distance he saw Abraham and Lazarus in his bosom. We can in spite of all admire this rich man for being circumspective and articulate. We can see that he could recognize Abraham and Lazarus from a far distance and could even hold an active conversation with them in his anguish. He requested for a drop of water from the tip of the finger of Lazarus which he could not receive because of the gap between the two parties.

We can actually dwell more on the gap (chasm) between the rich man in hades and Lazarus and Abraham in heaven. The gap was actually the same gap that the rich man created between him and Lazarus while they were still on earth. On earth Lazarus could not gain entrance into the Rich Man’s house. From outside the gate he could see people eating and making merry but nobody offered him even a scrap of bread; though we never heard that he begged. Now in the hereafter the situation turned around. The rich man is now the one outside the region of happiness and very much unlike Lazarus he was found begging.

In the last section of the narrative the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his five brother to warn them about the place of torment but Abraham told him that they have Moses and the Prophets but he insisted that someone coming from the dead may make them to have a change of heart, but Abraham authoritatively told him that if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets someone coming from the dead would not make a difference.

In this section we see the rich man going evangelical. When his plea for a drop of water could not be met he started making a plea for his five brothers who are still living in the world. Insightfully we can still see some trends of rich-man-attitude of giving order still existing in the man. He still believed that he could still give orders even in that place of anguish. He had asked Lazarus to bring water to him. The implication would be that Lazarus would have to leave heaven to hell to experience some of the burnings; he could have wished that Lazarus should exchange places with him. Next he asked that Lazarus should go back on earth as a messenger to his family.

Many commentators and biblical scholars have taken so much time trying to analyse what the sin of the rich man could have been. He was not a thief, he did not kill, and we didn’t hear that he was immoral. But upon deep reflection one can see that the man’s problem was himself; if you like his excessive love for himself that made him not to see the need of others. For instance the narrative began by telling us about his wealth, wardrobe and diet. It was all about him and what will be of benefit to him and we can conveniently say that he was challenged by self-love leading him to negligence and omission.  Hence the rich man was punished at the end of his earthly life because he was unable to show love and care to Lazarus. His sin was not what he did but what he failed to do.  

 At the end of the narrative we discover that there was a reversal. The rich man became eternally poor while the poor Lazarus became eternally rich. Very often we are too comfortable with ourselves and what we have that we don’t care about what becomes of other people around us. That is actually why the oracle of Amos (6:1a;4-7) today announced woe on those who are at ease in Zion and giving themselves exceptional treat while things go wrong for others (the ruin of Joseph)

From the gospel today we come to understand that riches  come with grave responsibilities. Indeed God made it possible for some people to be rich so that they can assist those who are less privileged by becoming the hand of GOD at the service of such people. God does not care about how much you own but how much you care. It is based on this that our Lord Jesus Christ advised that our entrance into heaven would depend on our attitude to people we meet because such people like Lazarus represent Jesus Christ (Matt. 25:40).

 It all depends on our choices. Whatever choices you make today will determine the outcome of your tomorrow. We can, like the rich man choose to take absolute care of ourselves by eating the best meals and wearing the most expensive clothes and overlook the need of people around us; but we can be sure that like the rich man we shall be giving account of that too. Life should never be determined by how much we have but how much we are able to give.

Have a blissful Sunday and a blessed week ahead!

Fr. Bonnie.

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