Lazarus and the Rich Man (Lk 16:19-31)
“God enabled Jeremiah to do what Jesus Christ would one day command: ‘Pray for those who persecute you’ (Matt. 5:44).” (Note 1)
“This is why we see the same prophet, when he sees the evils that he has predicted come to pass, is far from being joyful — as he would have been had he wished for them to suffer — but is instead brought to tears by the sight of their disaster.” (Note 2)
“All of humanity must translate the parable of the rich man and the beggar into contemporary terms of economy and politics, in terms of all human rights, in terms of relations between the First, Second and Third worlds. We cannot stand idly by when thousands of human beings are dying of hunger. Nor can we remain indifferent when the rights of the human spirit are trampled upon, when violence is done to the human conscience in matters of truth, religion and cultural creativity. We cannot stand idly by, enjoying our own riches and freedom if, in any place, the Lazarus of the 20th century stands at our doors. In the light of Christ’s parable, riches and freedom mean a special responsibility.” (Note 3)
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm, whose heart turns away from the Lord.’ … Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.’ … The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it? I the Lord search the mind and try the heart, to give eery man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.” (Jer 17:5, 7, 9-10 (RSV))
“”There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Laz′arus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz′arus in his bosom. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz′arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz′arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’” (Lk 16:19-31 (RSV))
Today’s readings are interesting. I am not as versed in the book of Jeremiah as I am the New Testament, but we can see Jeremiah’s time as a prophet as someone allegorical to Christ — at least according to Bossuet. Here is the introduction to the Book of Jeremiah from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s website:
“The Book of Jeremiah combines history, biography, and prophecy. It portrays a nation in crisis and introduces the reader to an extraordinary person whom the Lord called to prophesy under the trying circumstances of the final days of the kingdom of Judah. Jeremiah was born, perhaps about 650 B.C., of a priestly family from the village of Anathoth, two and a half miles northeast of Jerusalem. He was called to his task in the thirteenth year of King Josiah (Jer 1:2). Josiah’s reform, begun with enthusiasm and hope, ended with his death on the battlefield of Megiddo (609 B.C.) as he attempted to stop the northward march of the Egyptian Pharaoh Neco, who was going to provide assistance to the Assyrians who were in retreat before the Babylonians.
“Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, fell in 612 B.C., preparing the way for the new colossus, Babylon, which was soon to put an end to the independence of Judah.
“The prophet supported the reform of King Josiah (2 Kgs 22–23), but after the death of Josiah the old idolatry returned. Jeremiah opposed this as well as royal policy toward Babylon. Arrest, imprisonment, and public disgrace were his lot. In the nation’s apostasy Jeremiah saw the sealing of its doom. Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem (598 B.C.) and carried King Jehoiachin into exile (Jer 22:24).
“During the years 598–587, Jeremiah counseled Zedekiah in the face of bitter opposition. The false prophet Hananiah proclaimed that the yoke of Babylon was broken and a strong pro-Egyptian party in Jerusalem induced Zedekiah to revolt. Nebuchadnezzar took swift vengeance; Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 and its leading citizens sent into exile.” (Note 4)
We see that Jeremiah prophesied during a time when Israel — Judah — was once again turning away from God and thus was, once again, being sent into captivity. Jeremiah’s tears are for the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar.
The New Testament reading, the story of Lazarus, is one of my favorites. here we have a poor beggar who desires to eat the scraps from the rich man’s table — the implication being that he desires it, but it doesn’t come to pass. Instead, he is hungry, begging of food and covered with sores that the dogs lick. He dies and goes to heaven with Abraham.
The rich man eats sumptuously every day and ignores Lazarus at his door. It’s interesting here, too, that Jesus names Lazarus, but not the rich man. Lazarus means, “whom God helps” (Note 5), a direct correlation to the faith that of Lazarus in the parable. He is poor, sick, hungry, covered in sores, but he still believes his help is from God. Piety at its finest.
The rich man is not named, has all the finer things in life and ignores the poor at his doorstep, even so much as to not give them scraps from his table. A sure lack of virtue.
In these two contrasting characters, we have a parable that sums up the previous two days’ readings — Sound No Trumpet and Serve, Not Be Served. Lazarus was unable to do anything but serve and praise God, and he did it faithfully (whom God helps). The rich man served no one but himself, ignored the poor and wore the finest of all garb. He sounded his trumpet before men and failed to serve anything but his ego. He received his reward on earth, and his eternal reward was the reward of hypocrites.
Let me just make a couple of clarifications: it is not a sin to be neatly and poverty, in and of itself, is not a virtue. Wealth is given by God and must be used to help your fellow man, which means you must first care about your fellow man. The rich man’s sin wasn’t that he was rich, his sin was that he was indifferent to his fellow man and refused to serve them. Lazarus begged outside of his door for just the scraps from his table, but was denied even that. The rich man did not serve others — but, with his fine garb and sumptuous meals, made it a point to ensure everyone knew he was rich.
Lazarus, from the implication of his name, though poor, destitute, hungry and sick, maintained his faith and service to God. Thus his virtue and righteousness. His virtue wasn’t in his poverty, it was in his response to poverty — to rely on God and trust him.
I read through this story and can’t help but think of the luxury car drivers who flaunt their wealth while ignoring their fellow man. They treat everyone else on the road as though they are an inconvenience and a burden to them. They sound their trumpets and they refuse to serve their fellow man, essentially being indifferent to them, much the same as the rich man in the parable. As frustrated as I get with them, I still have to remain patient and pray for them.
In the end of the parable, each man goes to his reward, just in different places. The rich man seeks respite from his anguish, is denied, then asks for Lazarus to go to his family and warn them. Abraham says they have Moses and the prophets, if they won’t listen to them, really would they listen to one who rose from the dead? Much like the BMW drivers and our God who rose from the dead…
1. Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, Meditations for Lent, trans. Christopher O. Blum (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2013), 63.
2. Bossuet, Meditations, 64.
3. Pope St. John Paul II, “Lazarus Stands at Our Doors” In Renewing Our Discipleship, Daily Reflections on the 2017 Lenten Readings for Mass, ed. Steve Mueller (St Louis, MO: All Saints Press, 2017), 16.
4. New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, D.C.: Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, 2010), accessed at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/scripture.cfm?bk=Jeremiah&ch=.
5. M. G. Easton, “Lazarus,” at Bible Study Tools (16 March 2017), at http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/lazarus/.