Two Separate Worlds, 25TH SEPTEMBER 2016
It is ironic when we listen to today’s gospel about Lazarus and the rich man, we tend automatically to identify with Lazarus. We miss the whole point of the story. We, in fact, collectively are the rich man. Amos” warning is aimed directly at us: “Woe to those ensconced so snugly in Zion.” The problem about being collectively responsible for the world’s starving masses is that we can so easily shrug off our personal responsibility. You may be living in a bed-sitter with few comforts or struggling to meet the repayments on your home. Yet all the services we benefit from, our public transport system, our education, our health services etc. derive from the rich man’s club to which we belong. Now, at last, we are beginning to wake up to the magnitude of our greed. And not because our conscience has finally got to us, but because we realize that we are fouling our own nest. In that memorable phrase of Amos, “the sprawlers” revelry is over.” Our world is too small to bear such inequalities. Unless we share our table with the world’s hungry, we will all end up in a hell of our own creation. The story in the Gospel presents an unnamed rich man who is secure in this world. He is in his house, dressed in purple and fine linen. He could afford to have feast every day. When, however, Lazarus is presented, the contrast is so striking between the two. All that Lazarus has is his name. He is poor and ignored altogether and has to content himself with the place he gets to lie down outside the gate of the well-guarded house. It is not even certain that the rich man was aware that Lazarus was at the gate of his house and that he would have appreciated some help. The two are living in two separate worlds, one isolated from the other. This isolation is willed by the rich man. He certainly had the possibility of not building a well keeping himself inside, well protected from the misery of others. But he chose the wall expressing his conviction that the personal possessions were really that, personal, and not to be shared with others.
As is typical in the many Gospel parables, a reversal takes place before the story ends. A first signal of the reversal happens with the naming of the characters. The poor has a name, Lazarus whereas the rich man has none. The second reversal happens when Jesus shows that upon death Lazarus was carried by the angels into an intimate relationship with Abraham. No mention is made of the burial of Lazarus, although it is taken for granted. When the rich man died, however, he was buried and he finds himself not with Abraham, but in agony in flames. The nature of the reversal is made more obvious and final with the words of Abraham. The situations have changed and it is for good. It cannot be rectified. The choices and the manner of living on earth had shown already which side they had chosen. The rich man, by his luxurious life and neglect of Lazarus in need before his gate, showed that for him, happiness was something one produce for himself here on earth and that it would last forever and that God did not have anything to say about this. God, the source of life and joy, remained unimportant for him after this life and thus the suffering of being separated from him. But it is now too late to change. Our choices with regard to the way we live, as individuals and as communities’ prepare us or do not prepare us for union with God. The place we give to the poor and the needy in the community is what shows us how much of God’s image we see in them right now, deform though this might be because of the misery and suffering. We might even be responsible for some of the poverty of others. Where there is a willingness to associate with the poor and needy and to work for the alleviation of their state of misery, we associate more and more with God here and now and we will bring this intimacy with God to its fullness later on.
BY: FR. RAPHAEL HESSAH