Lazarus, the Prodigal Son, and you

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26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C: Sept. 29, 2013
Amos 6:1, 4-7; Ps 146; 1 Tim 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31

Today we hear from our Lord Jesus the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. And there are some points in which this parable resembles one that we heard a couple weeks ago. Did you notice that Lazarus, lying at the rich man’s door, longed to eat his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table? We heard that same language about the Prodigal Son: who, after he had spent all of his inheritance, and fell on hard times, and had to take a job feeding pigs, longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed. (Luke 15:16) And do you remember the celebration that happened in that parable, and how the father spoke of how it was necessary to celebrate? (Luke 15:23, 24, 29, 32) This is the same word that describes what the rich man in this parable did every day.

But aside from these points of contact, these parables turn out very differently, don’t they? The Prodigal Son, from that point of desperation, realized that he could go back home to his father; but Lazarus, in this parable, has nowhere to turn, but just stays there, sick and starving. The Prodigal Son has a celebration thrown for him by his father; Lazarus never gets to enter into the rich man’s celebration that happens every day.

It is curious to note how the rich man doesn’t truly see Lazarus. Oh, he knows he’s there; and he knows his name! But it’s like he is just part of the scenery; like Lazarus is just supposed to always be sick and starving, because that’s what he does. He won’t even allow him to eat the scraps that fell from his table. And then, in the afterlife, he still thinks that Lazarus is supposed to act like a servant for him—when he asks Abraham to send him to dip his finger in water, or to carry a message to his brothers. Within his earthly life, and even in the afterlife, in this parable, the rich man never can see Lazarus as a real person worthy of his love and compassion and respect.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus wants many of his hearers to identify with the older son in the parable: to realize that they should not resent the love and compassion shown to sinners, and, when they are saved, should not refuse to rejoice, but instead should join the celebration. In this parable, he wants us to identify with the rich man: and to realize that, if we do keep refusing to have compassion and mercy on those who are suffering, then there will be punishment. There will be hell to pay, as the saying goes.

The person in the Bible who speaks the most about hell—is Jesus himself. And so his Church follows him faithfully in teaching the truth that hell exists and that it is eternal. God does not want anyone to go to hell; but we can choose to go there if we refuse to freely love him; if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor, or against ourselves, and refuse to repent and accept his merciful love. (CCC 1033-37)

And this is what the rich man did in the parable. It seems he had rejected what he had learned from the Scriptures, from Moses and the prophets. And he was complacent, drawn into himself, completely absorbed in his comfort, his riches, his fancy clothes, his food and drink. Day after day he had the opportunity to be drawn out of himself to see Lazarus, right at his door, to have compassion on him, to reach out to him in love—to allow himself to be touched by love. Day after day he refused. He refused love; he refused repentance; he chose to exclude himself from communion with God and the saints; he chose hell.

But it need not be so! Jesus tells us this parable so that we don’t make the same mistake as the rich man: so that we see the Lazaruses in our lives; so that we see them as persons; so that we respond to them with love and respect.

How much does Jesus love us and want us to share in heavenly glory? Enough to send us a Lazarus, to be present right in our lives, to draw us out into love—to move us to lay hold of eternal life.

So who is the Lazarus in your life? Someone you see regularly—maybe every day. Someone who is suffering. Someone you take for granted; who seems almost like part of the scenery. It might be someone in your own family; a neighbor; a co-worker; someone sitting in the pew with you. Maybe they need physical help from you; maybe it’s more personal, emotional, spiritual; maybe it’s all of the above.

Who is the Lazarus in your life? The Lord has brought you together—so that you both can reach out in love and receive in love—so that you can become a little more human, and a little more holy. So that you don’t miss the great celebration; so that you can lay hold of eternal life!

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