The parable we have heard last Sunday, the Story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, did not tell us that the rich man was an evil person. He was a prominent man in his community, perhaps even a generous contributor to charity. Probably, he attended the synagogue (the Church activities) regularly. He probably had a clear conscience and felt strongly that he deserved a place in heaven. But clearly, he had it all wrong.
What was the sin of the rich man that earned him eternal damnation? Obviously, there was a great deal of sin in his life that he had failed to see. The sin of the rich man in the parable was not that he ordered Lazarus removed from his property. It was not that the rich man kicked Lazarus or shouted obscenities at him as he passed him by.
The sin of the rich man was simply that he had a very insensitive heart towards Lazarus. He just accepted him and his miserable state as a part of the landscape of life. He was just a plain daily sight that may have become a part of his life.
The sin of the rich man was that he accepted, without question, the fact that Lazarus was poor and he himself was rich. The sin of the rich man was not a ‘sin of commission,’ that is, doing something he should not have done. The sin of the rich man was a ‘sin of omission,’ that is, not doing something he should have done.
The sin of the rich man was delighting in his own personal wealth and not lifting a finger to help Lazarus in his immediate need. The sin of the rich man was to accept as normal and natural the vast economic gap, which separated him from Lazarus. He found nothing wrong in the fact that he was enjoying all that luxury while his neighbor was living in meek poverty. As the popular saying goes: to close one’s eyes to the neighbor’s misery is a great sin.
The sin of the rich man was the same that is being committed over and over these days. And it is this sin that is beginning to cause a serious concern not only because of what it is doing to the poor but also because of what it is doing to society.
J.F. Kennedy once said, “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” In other words, our lack of concern for the poor is destroying not only the poor but also the very moral structure of our society.
The parable last Sunday is an invitation to meditate on the story of the rich man and Lazarus and to ask ourselves: How can we live a happy life while so many other people are suffering?
I find it hard to understand why there are people who can be so relaxed even when the world around him is starving and slowly getting drowned by the ill-effects of poverty and inequality. It is not a sin to be born rich, but it cannot be an advantage for a person to secure a place in God’s kingdom.
Taking to heart the words of St. John Paul II; “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 the parable of Christ, riches and freedom mean a special responsibility. Riches and freedom create a special obligation to every human person. Every human person has a dignity.
The rich man and Lazarus are both human beings, both were created in the image and likeness of God, both were redeemed by Christ at a great price, the price of the precious blood of Christ. The poor of the world are our brothers and sisters. We must never be content to leave them just the crumbs of the feast. We must take of our substance, and not just of our abundance, to help them. We must treat them like guests at our own table.