The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus from the Gospel of Luke 16:19-31 is well worth the read. Jesus challenges us through parables such as these. For the people of his time, those who had wealth and status in society did so, it was believed that they were blessed by God. When the rich man and the beggar, Lazarus, die, I am sure Jesus paused to allow his listeners to imagine what would happen to these two men. Many would not have predicted what happened next.
Lazarus was taken up “by angels to the bosom of Abraham” (Lk 16:22). The rich man found himself suffering from the torment of flames, such that he was parched, begging just for a drop of water from Lazarus (cf. Lk 16:23-24). Abraham, the model of faith and father of Judaism, was not sitting with the rich man, who must have always been seated at the highest places in his day, but now that seat, at the bosom of Abraham, was offered to Lazarus. There was no hope at this moment for the rich man to cross over because of the wide chasm that separated them. An ironic subtlety was afoot as well in Jesus’ telling of the parable to the Pharisees. Lazarus the poor beggar is named, whereas, the rich man is not.
How does the rich man come to this state of suffering and separation? This is the life he lived prior to his death. He walked over or by Lazarus day after day not giving him even a second look. Lazarus would have been grateful even for the mere scraps that fell from the rich man’s table, just as the rich man now sought just a drop of water from the finger of Lazarus. The rich man committed the root offense from which sprouts much of our sin; he failed to bother, to care, to love his brother, to will his good.
Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, echoes Matthew 25:40, “whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.” How we treat others matters. Failing to care, to reach out to those in need around is sinful. We, probably like those who first heard this parable, experience time and again, a wicked mind storm that swirls with reasons, rationalizations, and justifications as to why we do not reach out to help others. The majority, if any, are not valid. We are invited to give and to love joyfully from a natural, not a hesitant disposition, to provide aid and support.
Almsgiving is one of the three pillars of Lent. The first step is to be aware of those who are in need. This can be in our own home! Second, when we see someone in need and we feel the wind and the waves of our mind surging with reasons of why not to help, call on Jesus to calm the storm of our minds. Third, may we take a breath and stop. Let our eyes adjust so we can see the person before us as a human being, as a sister or a brother with dignity, value, and worth. Everyone wants to belong, to be a part of, to be loved. Finally, at that moment, we can seek the guidance of Jesus, allow him to work through us so that we may be present and allow God to happen in whatever form or act of caring and kindness that is called for.
Painting: “The Poor Lazarus at the Rich Man’s Door” by James Tissot 1886 and 1894