The rich man of the Gospel and the “worthless rich” of the prophet Amos (today’s first reading) do no understand that the many blessings we have received from God are given for us to share — to share not out of a sense of obligation but as a joyful opportunity to give thanks to God for his many blessings to us.
In our busy-ness, in our need for “me time,” in our pursuit of our own wants and expectations, we become quite adept at shutting the world out, not seeing or hearing the Lazaruses in our lives — and sometimes we are the isolated Lazarus in need of love and support and understanding.
Amassing large estates and building up profitable stock portfolios are not the stuff that true legacies are made of. We will be remembered not for what we possess but for what we give; our lasting legacy will be what we contribute to make our world a happier, healthier place.
At the first hut, a mother was caring for a child sick with a fever. Father watched as she nestled the child in her arms, wiping the boy’s face with a wet rag. For hours she held the child, patiently wiping his brow, whispering a little song as he slept. Father blessed the child and his mother, left some medicine, and went on his way.
At another house, Father arrived in time for supper. The mother had prepared a weak soup of water and a few vegetables she had begged that day. She happily welcomed the priest and offered him a small cup. As he took the soup and joined the other members of the family, he did not see a cup or bowl for the mother. He blessed the family, left some bread, and moved on.
As he arrived at the last house, a cold rain began to fall. An elderly couple lived there. The small fire offered little warmth from the damp cold. The old woman was lying on a mat, trying to sleep. She grasped the threadbare blanket around her to keep warm. Her husband had taken off his own tattered coat and tucked it around her, then sat beside her and rubbed her back to help keep her warm. Father blessed them both, left blankets for them, and returned to his own small house.
That night, having given away all of the food and medicine and blankets he had, the priest sat down and looked at his now empty cupboard and realized that he had been the one who was blessed that day.
Jesus calls his disciples not only to care for the poor but also to learn from the poor. The Lazaruses in our midst can teach us a great deal about compassion and generosity; in their poverty, they can show us how to possess real treasures of life; in their humility, they reflect the dignity of being made in the very image of God. The rich man of today’s Gospel and the “worthless rich” excoriated by the prophet Amos (today’s first reading) are too self-absorbed and satisfied to grasp the wisdom that the poor have to teach them: that the many blessings they — and we — have been given by God are a responsibility and a means to realize God’s dream of a just and merciful community of humanity.
From Fr. Jude Botelho:
Amos speaks to the wealthy people in Zion close to the mountains of Samaria, who feel secure with their wealth and riches. They spend their time in comfort sprawled on their divans, wining and dining in luxury. “Woe to you” he warns them, “your music and revelry will be reduced to silence and sorrow.” Amos is the prophet of social justice and he chastises those who enjoy themselves at the expense of the poor. A prophet in spite of himself, he slashes at the wealthy families of the northern kingdom. Their indifference to the miseries of the poor and their insensitivities to the ruin of the northern kingdom will be punished by exile. Amos points to the shallowness, of comfort and security provided by wealth.
Caring and sharing with the poor
Dr. Samuel Johnson was a great lexicographer, writer, critic and conversationalist. He was the first one to make an attempt to write the English Dictionary. William Barclay gives this account of his kindness and generosity. “Surely one of the loveliest pictures in literary history is the picture of Johnson, in his own days of poverty, coming home in the small hours of the morning, as he walked along the Strand, slipping pennies into the hands of waifs and strays who were sleeping in the doorways because they had nowhere else to go.” When someone asked him how he could bear to have his house filled with ‘necessitous and undeserving people’, Johnson answered, “If I did not assist them no one else would, and they must not be lost for want.” Dr. Johnson cared and was concerned about the beggars and the strays that flocked to him.
John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells the story of a rich man and a poor man. The rich man dresses magnificently and feasts lavishly every day. The rich man is not only rich in clothes and food but is also rich in privileges and in the freedom he enjoys from all that besets the poor. His privilege conceals from him his responsibilities; it blinds him to the man who lies at his own gate. He is not a bad man but one who is wrapped up in his own world, insensitive to the needs of others around him. In contrast to the rich man there is Lazarus, who is clothed in rags and covered with sores. Lying at the gate, he has no food. He does not beg for food, but hopes for scraps that fall from the master’s table, which the dogs fight for. He is in need, but whom no one cares for. He dies at the gate of the rich man and is buried. The next scene is after-life where there is a reversal of fortunes. Lazarus is now well dressed and enjoying the heavenly banquet. In contrast the rich man is in torment and in flames. This agony creates awareness and compassion for his brothers and he hopes Lazarus can return to earth to warn them. His regret and compassion are not enough and no warning can be given to his brothers. They have the teachings of scripture to warn them and the poor at their gates could be their salvation. Like the brothers on earth, we have the scripture to warn us of the dangers of riches and overindulgence, and we have Lazarus –the poor at our gates. We also have someone who did rise from the dead who constantly reminds us of the way to heaven. That is more than enough.
Vanity of Wealth
The famous Greek law-giver Solon once went on a vacation to the town of Lydia, in what is now the country of Turkey. It boasted to have the richest king in the world, named Croesus. Solon, the great philosopher, -quite detached from all possessions of this world –decided to visit the man who seemed to find all his happiness in wealth. As soon as he got to the place, Croesus decided to show his vaults. “What do you think of that?” he demanded triumphantly. But Solon kept silent and so the king went on, “Who do you think is the happiest man in the world?” The philosopher thought for a moment, and then named two obscure Greeks whose names Croesus had never heard before. The king was angry of being cheated out of a compliment, so he asked sharply for an explanation. Solon answered, “No man, my friend, can be considered really happy whose heart is wedded to material things. They pass and their owner becomes a widow. To the widows, belongs grief. Or to the man himself who passes away, and can take none of his gold with him. Again it is only grief.”
Frank Michalic in ‘1000 stories you can use’
Schweitzer and the Poor
Albert Schweitzer has been acclaimed the world over as a multiple genius. He was an outstanding philosopher, a reputable theologian, a respected historian, a concert soloist, and a missionary doctor. But the most remarkable thing about him was his deep Christian faith. It was a faith that influenced even the smallest details of his life. At the age of 21, Schweitzer promised himself that he would enjoy art and science until he was 30. Then he would devote the rest of his life to working among the needy in some direct form of service. And so on his 30th birthday, on October 13, 1905, he dropped several letters into a Paris mailbox. They were to his parents and closest friends, informing them that he was going to enroll in the university to get a degree in medicine. After that he was going to Africa to work among the poor as a missionary doctor. The letters created a stir and many berated him and questioned his decision. Nevertheless, Schweitzer stuck to his guns. At the age of 38, he became a full-fledged medical doctor. At the age of 43, he left for Africa where he opened a hospital at the edge of the jungle in what was then called Equatorial Africa. He died there in 1965 at the age of 90. What motivated Albert Schweitzer to turn his back on worldly fame and wealth and work among the poorest of the poor in Africa? He said that one of the influences was his meditation on today’s gospel about the rich man and Lazarus. He said: “It struck me as incomprehensible that I should be allowed to live such a happy life, while so many people around me were wresting with…..suffering.”
Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’
Do you care?
A man came home from work late and tired. He found his five-year-old son waiting for him at the door. ‘Daddy, may I ask you a question?’ ‘Yeah, sure, what is it?’ replied the dad. ‘Daddy, how much money do you make an hour?’ ‘That’s none of your business! What makes you ask such a thing?’ the man said angrily. ‘I just want to know. Please tell me, how much do you make an hour?’ pleaded the little boy. ‘If you must know, I make $20 an hour.’ ‘Oh,’ the little boy sighed, head bowed. Looking up, he asked ‘Daddy, may I borrow $10 please?’ The father was furious. ‘If the only reason you want to know how much I earn an hour is just so you can buy a silly toy or some other nonsense, then you can march yourself straight to your room, and go to bed. I work hard hours every day, and don’t have time for such childish games.’ The little boy went quietly to his room, and closed the door. The man sat down, and began to get even more annoyed about his son’s attitude. How dare he ask such questions, just to get some money? After an hour or so he calmed down, and began to think that he may have been a little hard on his son. Perhaps there was something his son really needed to buy with that $10, and he really didn’t ask for money very often. The man went to the door of the little boy’s room, and opened it. ‘Are you asleep, son?’ he asked. “No, daddy, I’m awake,’ replied the boy. ‘I’ve been thinking. Maybe I was too hard on you earlier,’ said the man. ‘I’ve had a long day, and I took annoyance out on you. Here’s that $10 you asked for.’ The little lad sat straight upright, beaming. ‘Oh, thank you, daddy!’ he exclaimed. Then, reaching under his pillow, he pulled out some more crumpled notes. The man, seeing the boy already has money, began to get angry again. The boy slowly counted out his money, and then he looked up at his dad. ‘Why did you want more money if you already had some?’ the father demanded. ‘Because I didn’t have enough, but now I do,’ the boy replied. ‘Daddy, I want to give you this $20, if you’ll spend an hour with me.’
Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel truth!’
6. The Trouble with Generalization
We may be tempted to generalize the rich -- since so few of us belong to that category. The rich man is not named, but he is also not condemned for being rich, but for his indifference and uncaring attitude towards poor Lazarus right outside his door. Remember that Abraham was wealthy, and he isn't in the place of torment.
Brian Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes
7. Who Have We Been Trampling? There is an ancient story about a botanist who was studying the heather bell found in the highlands of Scotland. While looking through his microscope at this beautiful flower, he was approached by a shepherd who asked what he was doing. Rather than trying to explain, the botanist invited the shepherd to peer through his microscope and observe for himself. When the shepherd saw the wonder of the flower, he exclaimed, "My God, and I have been tramping on them all my life!"
Is that the word of warning we need? Wake up! Pay attention! Look around you. You may be tramping on the heart of someone nearby. Who is the Lazarus at your gate?
Doesn't the same principle apply to you and me as human beings? The blessings of life flow to you and me, but we fail to realize that most of these blessings are not meant just to flow to us, but through us, for the good of others around us, especially for those in need.
Fr. Tony Kadavil:
"America's Mansions." There was a television show, America's Mansions, featuring homes of the extremely rich in the U. S. It featured the Vanderbilt estate in Hyde Park, New York constructed by a wealthy industrialist of the nineteenth century. It is a fifty-four room home, with a breathtaking view of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains in the distance. Another feature was the home of Bill Gates the richest man in the world. Its building cost was over $53 million. It is a fifty-four room house: a 66,000 square foot complex with seven bedrooms, 24 bathrooms, six fireplaces and an 11,500 square-foot inner sanctum for privacy. The financier Nelson Peltz’s mansion on his waterfront estate in Florida is worth $75 million. The original price of the Bel-Air Mansion owned by Iris Cantor, the widow of Gerald Cantor, was $60 million. (http://www.forbes.com). We find it hard to imagine living in such luxury. But neither can we imagine the poverty found around the world. Here is the report of the United Nations Human Development Commission. "The richest fifth [20 percent] of the world's people consumes 86 percent of all goods and services, while the poorest fifth [20 percent] consumes just 1.3 percent.” The three richest people in the world have assets that exceed the combined gross domestic product of the 48 least developed countries. "Americans spend $8 billion a year on cosmetics--$2 billion more than the estimated annual total needed to provide basic education for everyone in the world.” Each day over 700 million people do not get enough to eat. Each year twelve million children below the age of five starve to death in a world that produces enough food for everyone to eat over 4 pounds of food a day. 250,000 go blind each year because of vitamin deficiency in their diet. In Latin America, forty million abandoned children live on the streets. Even in the United States about three million people are homeless at least a part of each year. In today’s Gospel, Jesus suggests a remedy: share your blessings generously with others instead of using them selfishly and thus making yourselves eligible for eternal punishment.
Sharing is the criterion of Last Judgment: Matthew (25: 31ff), tells us that all six questions to be asked of each one of us by Jesus when He comes in glory as our judge are based on how we have shared our blessings from Him (food, drink, home, mercy and compassion), with others. Here is the message given by Pope John Paul II in Yankee Stadium, New York during his first visit to the U.S., October 2, 1979. "The parable of the rich man and Lazarus must always be present in our memory; it must form our conscience. Christ demands openness to our brothers and sisters in need – openness from the rich, the affluent, the economically advanced; openness to the poor, the underdeveloped and the disadvantaged. Christ demands an openness that is more than benign attention, more than token actions or halfhearted efforts that leave the poor as destitute as before or even more so. ...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.”