“Who wants to be rich and remain rich?” Most people would wish to be rich!. Another question: “Who wants to be poor and stay poor?” Mhhhh! The difference is very clear. For many of us, riches and wealth are blessings from God. Yes, I also believe (1 Chron. 29:12). For many of us still, poverty is a curse! Do you believe that? I strongly disagree. God recognizes the poor in our midst (Matt. 26:11), and instructed us to be at their service (Romans 12:13) and not to be at their disservice (Prov.22:22-23).
We shall make or lose heaven based on our relationship with those in need (Matt.25:31-45). There is, however, one truth we all cannot dispute, there is an end to riches and poverty in this world, and that is at the point of death. Death does not fear wealth nor is it sympathetic with poverty.
Last week, we heard the voice of Amos denouncing the rich who were feeding on the poor to get richer (Amos 8:4-7). And the Gospel ended with the instruction:” you cannot serve both God and mammon.” This Sunday gives us the picture of the fate of the malicious rich and the righteous poor after their short stay here on earth. The Prophet Amos sets the scene in the First Reading (Amos 6:1a.4-7) with another stern statement on those who are at ease (the rich). According to him, their comfort will later turn to discomfort. We shall focus more on the Gospel Reading of today (Luke 16:19-31).
In the Gospel Reading today; we saw two characters; an unnamed rich man and a poor man called Lazarus (Eliezer) a name which means “ My God will help.” Two scenes were featured; the situation on earth and the situation after life on earth. We shall proceed with the reflection based on these two dispositions before concluding with the Lazarus effect.
The Rich Man and Lazarus on Earth
The narrative began with a detailed description of the rich man. He was dressed gorgeously in purple which is the color of royalty and fine linen which indicated the standard of his wealth. Next, he enjoyed a rich menu consisting of sumptuous meals. In contrast, the narrative mentioned a poor man who was named Lazarus. He was officially a poor beggar and was always by the gate of the rich man.
Though there was surplus food in the rich man’s house, Lazarus was never considered even with a scrap of bread from the rich man’s table. He was not only poor he was also sick as he had sores all over his body that dogs attended to and perhaps infected too. The rich man and Lazarus were staying in the same community but lived in two separate worlds. The rich man lived in comfort and affluence while Lazarus lived in discomfort and lack.
It is very significant to note here that Lazarus never complained. He bore his situation with patience knowing that the Lord will act on his behalf at His own time (Psalm 37:7). He believed that his name would work for him; “my God is my help” (Psalm 54:4; 121:2). The rich man, on the other hand, relied on his wealth and never had any thought about God. (Rev.3:17).
The Rich Man and Lazarus in Afterlife
In the next section of the narrative, death crept in for both them. 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. However, the rich man found himself in Hades (hell).
There in torments the rich man 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. Abraham answered him and reminded him that 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 both sides.
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. On this, the Book of Ecclesiastes (9:2) says:
Everyone will die someday. Death comes to godly and sinful people alike. It comes to good and bad people alike. It comes to “clean” and “unclean” people alike. Those who offer sacrifices and those who don’t offer them also die.A good person dies, and so does a sinner.Those who make promises die. So do those who are afraid to make them.
Lazarus could have died out of malnutrition and poor health. The rich man, on the other hand, could have also died on account of any of the “high brow sicknesses” like malignant gliomas, kidney failure, liver dysfunction, high blood pressure, paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer, irreversible cardiac malfunction 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 for Lazarus. Maybe his body was thrown into a forest or a valley, to get rid of the stench. However, his soul 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).
A striking fact here is the inclusion of Abraham in the narrative. The person of Abraham is significant in the whole of the Bible. He was a man of unwavering faith in God and thus he could fit in as the patron of people who repose their faith in God (Heb.11:17-19).
The rich man also died and was buried. It could have been a stunning burial with all the high and mighty in attendance. However, behind the scene, he was found in Hades (hell) and was in great torment; taken hostage by Satan. From the depths of hell, he saw Abraham and Lazarus and requested for a drop of water from the tip of the finger of Lazarus which was, however, impossible because of the gap between them.
We can dwell more on the gap (chasm) between the rich man in Hades and Lazarus and Abraham in heaven. The gap was 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 afterlife, 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 made another request from Abraham. He told him to send Lazarus to his five brothers to warn them about the place of torment. In answering, Abraham told him that they have Moses and the Prophets but he insisted that someone coming from the dead may make them have a change of heart, but Abraham told him that if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets someone coming from the dead would not make a difference.
Insightfully we can still see some trends of rich-man-attitude of giving order still existing in the man. He felt that he could still give orders even in that place of anguish. He had asked Lazarus to bring water to him, and now he wanted him to leave heaven and go back to the earth for the sake of his brothers. On the first requested he wanted Lazarus to come over to hell and feel the burning heat.
The Lazarus Effect.
The name Lazarus means “My God will help me” (Eliezer). In the New Testament, we encounter two “Lazaruses.” One was a friend of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel of John (11:1-44) told us that he was sick and later died and buried. However, our Lord Jesus Christ came and raised him up from the dead. The second Lazarus is the one we have in the Gospel today. He suffered in life and died, but God raised him up to a better place after.
One common factor we could identify in these “Lazaruses” is God’s intervention in their helplessness. The divine intervention brought about the fact of being raised from the hopeless situation to a hopeful one. From sorrow to joy, from mourning to merriment. This is the LAZARUS EFFECT!
The Lazarus effect tells us that there is hope for a better situation; God will make a way (Isaiah 43:19). The Lazarus effect says that the dry bone can rise again (Ezek.37:7) The Lazarus effect tells that God is thinking about us (Psalm 40:5). The Lazarus effect tells us that God is capable of making impossibility possible (Luke 18:27). The Lazarus effect tells us that God is capable of healing our wounds, taking our sicknesses away and giving us prosperity (Jer.30:17-18). The Lazarus effect tells us that when there is a casting down, there is a rising for us (Job.22:29).
The Lazarus effect in the Gospel today eloquently tells us of what we could refer to as divine reversal. In the Gospel, the rich man became eternally poor while the poor Lazarus became eternally rich. On earth, Lazarus was outside the gate of the rich man and in the afterlife, the rich man was outside the gate of mercy. On earth, Lazarus had nobody besides him, but in the afterlife, he was in the bosom of Abraham. On earth, Lazarus had nothing to eat while the rich man had so much. But in the afterlife, the rich man had no access to even a drop of water and Lazarus had no need anymore.
The Gospel narrative today is a lesson for everyone. All we have are gifts from God. Let us also know that we are supposed to be humble enough to be charitable with what God has given to us. Often we forget that there could be a Lazarus effect for someone we assumed to be insignificant and unimportant. It is not impossible for a poor man to become rich (Sirach 11:21).
Have a blissful Sunday and may God visit your situation with a Lazarus effect!