In the parable of the rich man and the poor Lazarus, another parable from chapter 16 of Luke’s Gospel, we have once more an enlightening description of our society nowadays. “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen… and lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus… dogs even used to come and lick his sores.” The beginning of this parable leads us to affirm like the Qohelet: “There is nothing new under the sun.”
Lazarus, whose name means “friend of God” or “loved by God”, is the image of all those men and women, victims of injustice, but remembered and sustained by God in their struggle for better days. The rich man, who curiously doesn’t have a name – since he has identified himself with his wealth – is the image of all those who put their trust in mammon, becoming, in this way, blind to the needs of others and deaf to their cry.
This parable is telling us that the very contrary of love is not hate, but indifference. That is the most grievous sin of the rich man, for whom Lazarus was nothing else, but a shadow among the dogs (which seem to be more compassionate than the rich man himself). In spite of the fact that Lazarus was always at his door, for the rich man, Lazarus was invisible: neither a word, neither a gesture, neither a crumb, neither… Somebody once affirmed that hell is only the extension of our choices without heart, without love, which lead us far from God and distant from one another. The “great chasm” that the rich man finds after his death, which separates him from Abraham and Lazarus, was not created by God, or by Abraham and Lazarus, but by he himself every time he refused to look at others as brothers and sisters.
Far from encouraging a passive attitude on the part of those who suffer injustice or condemn those who honestly have thrived in their life, the aim of this parable is to invite us all to a full conversion. This conversion, which means changing of direction, is not a matter of almsgiving “una tantum”, but it is a matter of listening to and acting on the Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ, who came to bring life, and abundance of life, to all.
If this Sunday’s parable is reminding us to the contradictions of our society, at the same time, it is pointing out to all those people and initiatives capable to show a new way of relating among us, based on a culture of compassion and solidarity. This path in leading us closer to each other, brings us closer to God as well, as Saint Augustine said: “Walk with the man and you will reach God”.
From the writings of Saint Guido
“Jesus did not want us to say “my Father”, but our Father. The pronoun “our” is the voice of the love that knows it is not self-sufficient: the beauty of this can be felt only by those capable of love, those who are capable of appreciating the beauty of a smile that responds sincerely to another smile. I and mine, as a modern writer so rightly observes, are the words of one who believes he is almost alone in the world; but in the presence of the supreme Lord who can say “I” without adding that by himself he is nothing? Our joy lies in the word our.”
(1917, 14 January, Parma – Cathedral, Homily “Pater Noster”)