“But you, man of God pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness.” Paul to Timothy 6:11-16
These words of Saint Paul to his disciple Timothy is a check list for the qualities of that must be present in our lives as we follow Christ. We are invited to believe in a God who lives in our brothers and sisters, just as they are.
Throughout these past several weeks, the gospel of Luke provides us with stories that act as “life lessons” for those who would be servants of Christ. In many Protestant churches, the last Sunday in September, is considered “Stewardship Sunday.”
In last week’s selection, Luke told us that no man serves two-masters; there are stories about the lost son and the welcoming father; the gospel recounts the many ways that Jesus embraces women, children, the hurt and poor.
All of which is to remind us – day by day, that Christ embraces us, and no one is unworthy of his love. So we too must be stewards of this love.
Today’s parable of “Lazarus at the gate,” and his encounter with the rich man only appears in Luke’s gospel. Its chief figure, Lazarus has a given name, very rare in the parable stories. He is not to be confused with Lazarus the brother of Martha and Mary who was restored to life. The name “Lazarus,” means “the one who helps,” and the two Lazarus are reminders of the rewards of eternal life.
What is Jesus doing here? Recall, these parable stories come after his central teaching of the beatitudes, those blessed or happy people who live out in their lives in meaningful ways.
Blessed is Lazarus as the “meek man” the very person who takes Jesus’s teachings to heart, while the rich man does not even see nor takes notice of him.
Only when there is a “reversal of fortune,” does the rich man bring attention to his own plight, and pleads to father Abraham: “I beg you then, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them.”
World literature is filled with examples of the “reversal of fortune,” and as far back as Dante’s “Divine Comedy” or Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” we hear of people like Jacob Marley coming back from the dead to warn Ebenezer Scrooge:”I wear the chains, I forged in life.” Most recently, we learn of bank executives hauled before Congress to explain how they profited from accounts of their customers. Now they are ridiculed by the press and the public. Clearly, this is a fall from grace.
If only the rich man, referred to as “Dives,” in the many centuries of commentaries, had recognized the needs and hurts of Lazarus and welcomed him as a “sixth brother.” Then, Dives too would be among the saved.
If only we had the “enlightened eyes” of the gospel to see how we might best serve the hurt, the disadvantaged, the disabled, the abused, and those children weary from wars in the Middle East.
So the judgement is on us — we too might be saved as the “good and faithful” stewards of Jesus and his gospel, if only we had “enlightened eyes.”
We are called to respond to the word of God as a “sixth brother” in this life.
Sister Verna A. Holyhead, SGS writes:
“We must bridge the chasm in whatever way we can: through personal generosity, individual and group advocacy, information that turns the heart to outreach, or responsible voting; we are called to respond to the Word of God in this life.Like the rich man and his five brothers, no signs, no miracles, not even the Word of God, can break into and convert our hearts if we are determined to lock out the disadvantaged from our lives, because in them our poor brother Jesus still sits begging at our gates.” (from “Welcoming the Word”)
Lazarus of today’s parable has another interesting function in our Catholic funeral liturgy. Among the most traditional prayers, used at the conclusion of the Funeral Mass, is the hymn “In Paradisum,” which addresses the soul of the deceased with the words: “May the angels lead into paradise, and may the martyrs welcome you to the holy city Jerusalem. And with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have everlasting rest.”
So Lazarus is at heaven’s gate and gets the last word on all of us. While such obscure figure in the scripture, he is among the so-called “little people” promised the rewards of everlasting life.
Today, in Rome, Pope Francis told his congregation:
“The time taken to help others is time given to Jesus; it is love that remains, it is our treasure in heaven, which we earn on earth.
The Lord asks us today to meet and help all the Lazaruses we encounter. We cannot delegate this to others, saying I will help tomorrow. I have no time today. I’ll help tomorrow. This is a sin.”