Jesus said to the Pharisees: “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table” (Lk 16:19-21).
Two key points stand out right from the beginning of today’s Gospel regarding the two main characters of Jesus’ parable. The first is that rich man has all he needs and is quite comfortable, and in his wealth, there is no evidence that the rich man ever even took notice of the need of the man Lazarus who sat at his door presumably for some time for the implication is that he dies from neglect.
In sharing this parable, Jesus is not just pointing out something new, but echoing the prophet Amos who said “Woe to the complacent in Zion” (Amos 6:1). The man is complacent, indifferent to the need of Lazarus who is right at his door. How many times did the rich man just walk by him paying him no notice?
The second point in this account is that the poor man, Lazarus, who was most likely unknown to the rich man or anyone in his circle of family and friends is named, and the rich man who most likely many in his community knew goes unnamed. For ancient people’s those without a name were those that had no status, were outcasts, lost. The rich man is not named while alive but also remains so after his death, and there is a wide chasm between him and Abraham.
The man’s indifference and complacency toward those in life, those he kept at arm’s length, created separation between them instead of the unity God calls for and Jesus clearly is showing that he and others who follow the same path will be judged accordingly.
The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus that Jesus shared speaks truth to us today as much as it did in his time. Jesus again is showing the importance of our interconnectedness and call to build relationships with one another. We are not called to change the world. We are invited to meet each other, person by person, and respect the dignity of each other in each encounter.
I was blessed yesterday to have spent the morning and early afternoon at the Zen Center of Los Angeles. We as Christians can learn a lot from our Buddhist brothers and sisters. They gathered in the early afternoon to discuss their commitment for the coming three months. This is to be a time when the Sangha, or community, makes a commitment to deepen their practice individually, to the center, and to the community.
One of the four core commitments offered was to be more mindful of participating in acts of social justice on a personal and individual level. Roshi Wendy Egyoku Nakao, abbot emeritus, emphasized that each person was to be open to being aware of the needs of those people in our everyday experiences and reaching out with small acts of kindness. A discussion followed on exploring ways we each could commit do just that.
Jesus calls us to make the same commitment each day to being more aware of those around us and resisting the temptation to be indifferent as was the rich man, but instead following through on assisting those in need even if we start by just acknowledging the presence of another with a smile, a sharing of names, a few minutes of time and conversation. If we are willing to encounter one another as human beings to start, we may be more willing to accompany and help each other out.
Photo: St Mother Teresa understood the Gospel: “I see God in every human being.” May we also!