The Rich Man and Lazarus

Written by Joel on September 27th, 2010

Sept 26, 2010
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 16:19-31


Have you ever given money to a panhandler? What motivated you to give (or not)? What went on in your mind – compassion, pity, judging? Did you know his or her name? Would it be different if the panhandler lived on your sidewalk, so that you had to walk by him every day?

The first time I really knew any homeless people was when I lived in Pasadena, CA for seminary. I’ve never lived in a big city before. This was the first time I have seen panhandlers and homeless people with much regularity. There was one homeless man who hung out around the seminary. I came to know him by name – Randy. I came to hear his story, how he moved here from texas after running away from home about 20 years ago and hasn’t talked to his family since. He couldn’t find work because he was homeless, and just seemed to be stuck; in desperation. He didn’t seem to realize when I was in a hurry and didn’t have time for a 10 minute conversation – he could have talked all day. He didn’t speak in very clear sentences, and would often repeat himself. He smelled. I will admit that I felt uncomfortable almost every time I spoke with him.

In our Gospel reading we face the common situation of the rich and the poor. The Rich Man is obviously rich. He has a house with a gate. We wears fine linens and purple – a sign that he was quite wealthy, perhaps royalty. He is occupied with great feasts, every single day.

Meanwhile, at the Rich Man’s front door sat Lazarus. A man in miserable desperation. He was hungry as he watched the Rich Man feast. He would give anything for the table scraps which fell to the floor or were thrown to the garbage heap. He was sick and covered with sores. No one paid him any attention, only the dogs which liked his sores as he lay in the street. The Rich Man seemed blind to the poverty at his own front door, doing nothing for Lazarus, seemingly not acknowledging Lazarus’ existence.

The Rich Man and Lazarus had nothing to do with their present situations, they were born into it. The people of Jesus’ day hearing this story would have expected that the Rich Man was righteous and that God had blessed him with his riches. While Lazarus, the poor man was being punished for his sinful ways. Is it any different than how many view the poor today? I hear people blame the poor saying they are unwilling to work, lazy, mooching off the system, taking handouts. But there is a reversal in the story. Lazarus dies and is carried away by the angels; the Rich Man died, was buried and descends into Hades where he is tormented.

How the tables have turned. Now it is Lazarus who is feasting all the day long, in heavenly comfort. The Rich Man in agony, in flames. He cries out the Abraham to send Lazarus to give him some relief with just a drop of water. The Rich Man, even after life, even from Hades, even looking up to heaven, the Rich Man still sees Lazarus as lower than himself. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to first serve him, and second to serve his family. The Rich Man still just doesn’t get it; this other man Lazarus is not there to serve him. The Rich Man still fails to see Lazarus as an equal human being. None so blind as he who will not see. Death does not give sight to this blind man.

It the film Groundhog day, Bill Murray plays Phil the TV weatherman who is doomed to repeat the same Feb 2 over and over and over again. There is the one scene where it shows his morning routine. He walks down to the park, hops over a puddle, says hi to a friend, and passing up a homeless beggar. Of course he does this over and over on the same day. Phil realizes that this routine is repeating itself and he tries to change some things for the better…

It is difficult for us to see poverty here in our setting, Lets keep our eyes open to Lazarus in our day, and not put of the gates that separate us.


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