There are many stories about beggars around the world who fake it to make it. One young man in India could twist his limbs to various awkward shapes and positions to attract the sympathy of unsuspecting people who end up patronizing him with monetary donations. It is believed that he acquired a lot money from begging.
Some years ago, along 5th Avenue New York, one “elderly beggar” was a daily sight around some of the expensive shops. The twice bent woman could get more than fifty donations in a typical day. However, one day someone saw her hiding to empty her beggar’s cup into her hand bag to make space for more.
So, one day after her “working hours” the person who suspected her earlier followed her with a camera out of curiosity and what he saw was shocking. The supposed elderly lady entered an exotic SUV and came out as a young beautiful lady. Next day, when the lady showed up on 5th Avenue as a beggar, the person who caught her on camera confronted her with the footage but she said nothing and walked away and never showed up again.
These and similar stories are part of the reason the poor and beggarly are despised and abandoned in our society today as most people assume that they are faking it. Question: “would someone lose his or her divine reward by unknowingly giving alms to a fake beggar or needy person?” The answer is no! The reward is not dependent on the person that receives but on the heart that gives.
The Rich Man’s Attitude
Oftentimes, the true test of an individual is evident when the person grows rich. Wealth comes with an attitude which only the humble can overcome. In the Gospel Reading of this Sunday (Luke 16:19-31) our Lord Jesus Christ tells a very interesting story to address the aftermath of the despicable gap between the rich and the poor.
The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is one of the famous parables of our Lord Jesus found only in the Gospel of Luke. The Rich Man had all he wanted, while Lazarus was poor and hungry. Sometime after, both the rich and poor died, as death is a facility that is open to all us.
Beyond their physical passing, there was an eternal dimension; the rich man received flames as a reward, while the poor Lazarus was compensated with the heavenly bliss at the bosom of Abraham.
Let us take a closer look at the parable for a better insight. The rich man was not punished because his wealth was ill-gotten neither was he a murderer. He was punished because he adopted the rich man’s attitude.
The rich man attitude is the the feeling that the poor is a burden and deserve to be ignored. It sees the situation of the poor as a consequence of their laziness, bad choice and even unreal. In short, the rich man’s attitude is a judging disposition that outrightly neglects and despises the poor. The Book of Proverbs says, “the poor are despised by their neighbors, but the rich have many friends” (Proverbs 14:20).
The Lazarus Syndrome
Medical science tells us that Lazarus syndrome also known as autoresuscitation is a sudden coming back to life after an unsuccessful CPR when cardiac activities failed. It is interesting that medical science borrowed this phenomenon from the story of the rising of Lazarus to life after four days at the instance of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel of John (11: 43-44).
The two Lazarus’ in the Bible share one thing in common, “the coming back to life”. Transferred to its original scriptural understanding, the Lazarus syndrome tells us that God will raise the poor again as a response to the rich man’s attitude.
Moving Forward: Reversing The Rich Man’s Attitude
Riches and wealth are divine gifts with some responsibilities attached. One of the greatest failures of the rich and affluent in the world today is their inability to understand that they are dispensers of God’s materials blessings. It is further the failure to recognize the uncommon privilege of being collaborators with God in making the world a better place for everyone.
Let it be known that inattention to the poor is an offense against the divine directive on charity. The Apostle James (4:17) says if anyone knows the right thing to do and fails to do it commits sin. Of course the rich man in the parable knew exactly what to do about the plight of Lazarus but his inability to do it resulted in the eternal punishment.
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man has a stronger message than what we may be used to think. It calls us to rise up to the aid of those in the margins of life and that our attitude of negligence will be punished. So, it is wrong for us to be comfortable in the face of the ugly situations of the poor and needy around us. The plight of the needy is all of our business at the end of the day.
Reversing the rich man’s attitude invites us to rise up from our comfort zones to reach out to those in our immediate neighborhood who do not have even have access to the food we throw into the trash and which could be their lunch or dinner.
The word of God warns us in the Book of Proverbs (21:13) that those you close their ears to the cry of the poor would cry and would not be heard. In another place we read: “the generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor” (Proverbs 22:9)
God bless you.
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Reflection for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.”
You are a great teacher