Opening the Word: Becoming friends with Lazarus

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“From the poor man we learn that all who suffer curses and injustice among us will stand before us in that other life.” So preached St. John Chrysostom. That’s the point of this parable of Lazarus and the rich man, a very important point at least. The poor we see or don’t see in this life we will see again; and, how the poor greet us then depends on how we greet them now, upon whether we saw the poor in this life as our friends and upon whether we treated them as friends. That’s the point, the haunting test.

At funerals, we Catholics often sing the In Paradisum. “May choirs of angels welcome you and lead you to the bosom of Abraham; and where Lazarus is poor no longer may you find eternal rest.” The point of this prayer is the point of the parable: again, the assumption is that the Christian will have lived his or her life in such a way that the angels, and Lazarus too, will naturally welcome into heavenly friendship the departed soul. Why? Because they were friends on earth. Again, that’s the point, the way charity works in the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ teaching is radically simple. Often we like to overinterpret passages such as these, for by complicating them, we lessen their moral demands. What Jesus was saying is that we should use our wealth well, whether our wealth is great or small, to build up the kingdom of God. And we do that by making friends — particularly with the poor and marginalized and particularly by acts of charity born of such friendships. Jesus said it plainly: “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Lk 16:9). That’s what the rich man didn’t do, that’s precisely where he went wrong: he saw the poor man and didn’t become his friend.

Jesus’ teaching here belongs not only to Luke’s larger theme of how God in Christ “lifted up the lowly” (cf. Lk 1:46-55) but also to the larger biblical themes of God’s enduring love for the poor and of his covenant. God loved lowly Israel; God liberated Israel from Egypt. Hence, God’s command to his people to remember what he had done in Egypt and to turn that memory into love and care for the anawim — the widow, the orphan, the poor (cf. Ex 22:21-24). In the promised land, there was to be no one in need (cf. Dt 15:4). The People of God were to be a communion of charity, of real solidarity and sharing. That’s what Jesus probably meant when he preached in Nazareth “a year acceptable to the Lord” (Lk 4:16-19). It’s also what Luke meant when, in Acts of the Apostles, he said that believers shared everything in common and that there was “no needy person among them” (Acts 4:34).

However, this parable reminds us that all of this is more urgent than we might like to think. This is the vision: a kingdom of solidarity and charity. This is the task, my task and yours: to help build that kingdom by acts of charity in friendship. What this parable whispers to us is this: don’t put this off too long, doing good work for the kingdom; don’t procrastinate. Don’t think you have all the time in the world to do well with your wealth, because you don’t. Time is short. For remember, it was the fool who forgot that he could die any day (cf. Lk 12:16-21).

The moral call, therefore, is to see Lazarus today, to make friends with Lazarus today. That’s the warning: don’t wait. Don’t put it off another day; because you see, you may not have another day. And because when your family and friends sing at your funeral — about angels and Lazarus welcoming you as a friend — it ought not to be a lie. Rather, it ought to be the truth.

But that depends on how you read this parable. And upon how it changed your life, or didn’t.

September 25 – 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Am 6:1, 4-7
Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
1 Tm 6:11-16
Lk 16:19-31

This article comes to you from Our Sunday Visitor courtesy of your parish or diocese.

 

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