Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Last week we were reminded of the fact that we are stewards of all that we have. Our life, our money, our family, our gifts and abilities are not ours. They are gifts from God and he will ask us for an account of how we used them. I made a list one year of all the things God gave me, not material things, but my upbringing, my education, my formation as a Catholic, and it blew me away. I would invite you to do that exercise sometime soon.
The gospel today (Luke 10: 19-31) has a really sharp contrast between a rich man who feasted sumptuously all day and dressed in purple, a clear sign of wealth in those days since a lot of squid had to give up their life and their ink to make that color. And oddly enough this man did not have a name. We usually know the names of rich and important people, but Luke names the poor man, the forgotten one.
Lazarus, whose name means helped by God, is filled with sores, alone, and totally neglected except for the dogs that give him some comfor,. In those days bread was used to wipe the hands of the rich people who ate and he longed for those crumbs but none were given to him. This parable is not meant to condemn riches nor to promote envy of people who seem to be better than us.
It seems to Pope Benedict (and I agree) that God wants to awaken us to the needs of others and to discern the real good for all men and women. The rich man we can guess is an empty-hearted man of the world. His feasting was only an attempt to drown his interior emptiness as we see so often around us today. He did not realize that the next life only brings to light the truth already present in this life. This gospel awakens us and summons us to the love and responsibility we owe to our poor brothers and sisters, world-wide, and right in our own backyards.
One of the main points of the parable is the rich man’s request for a sign. He is only saying what many people say today: if you want us to believe and organize our life in a certain way you have to speak more clearly, and dramatically. Send us someone from the next world to tell us that this is God’s command. Send a big angel or the Virgin Mary to appear to me and tell me directly. The answer given is very clear: if they do not believe the words of the prophets, the words of the Bible, then they will not believe someone coming from the next world either.
Who is the real Lazarus that you know from the Scriptures? Someone who is alone, abandoned, naked, mocked, outside the city gates. Lazarus is Jesus Christ. He is the true Lazarus, risen from the dead and he has came to tell us so.
This is the true sign. God’s sign for us is Jesus Christ, the true Lazarus. At the deepest level, in his death and resurrection he is this sign sent by God. He is the sign of Jonah. He the crucified and risen one is the true Lazarus. The parable is inviting us to believe and follow him. It is, however, more than a parable; it speaks of reality, the most decisive reality in all of history.
What we do to others is what we do to Christ as it says in the gospels. What you did for the least of my brothers, you did to me. The rich man is not condemned for being rich, but because he did not show charity; he was indifferent, as we heard in the first reading. Amos is speaking strongly to his countrymen who drink wine out of bowls but could care less about Joseph, which means the tribes of Israel that have been destroyed by an enemy.
Don’t forget rich men, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus, helped bury Jesus Christ. Zacchaeus who was also very rich made a huge conversion. What is being critiqued today is indifference to those in need. How is it possible to go worship God and not hug our brothers and sisters who are suffering, alone, clueless? You could very easily say the poorest today are the unborn; they are defenseless and cry out to us. It can also be the elderly.
Be more aware of the needs of the people around you. What we do to others, we do also to Christ. The one in need could be a neighbor or office mate or someone in your family. Be a sign to them! That is why the catechesis talks on Mondays and Thursdays are so important because its aim is for some in the parish to be a sign of Christ, a sign of love. It is not the love of a mother for her child, but a sign like that of Christ’s love from the cross. It is not something that can come from us. It can only come from God himself. The first step is to realize I need this spirit in my life.