Fr. Romeo Ballan
Also on this Sunday we hear of the slashing message of Amos and Luke about the use of riches. The prophet Amos (VIII century B.C.), in times of prosperity, hurled harsh threats (I Reading) to the rich people of the country who, lazily sprawled on ivory beds, were feasting, drinking wine and using the finest oil for anointing themselves (v. 4-6). They lived like unconcerned and debauched people, careless of the downfall impending over the country: the population of both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms were about to be taken into exile to Nineveh and Babylon.
In the same way, in today’s Gospel we have the critical and stern judgement of Luke concerning money, riches and social injustices. In Jesus’ parable, the rich man is interested in just two things in life: to dress in fine linen and feast magnificently every day (v. 19). With a few brushstrokes Luke describes the dramatic difference between the rich man and the poor Lazarus who was hungry, full of sores and licked by the dogs (v. 21-22). There is just one thing in common between the two of them: death, which inexorably arrives for both (v. 22). And immediately an even greater difference arises, due to the opposite destiny which irreparably divides them: the poor man “is carried away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham” (v. 22), a friend of God, while the rich man ends up “in his torments in Hades” (v. 23), unable now to get a drop of water (v. 24-25), to obliterate ‘the great gulf’ that divides them (v. 26) or to send a message of warning to his five brothers (v. 28).
In the parable, the rich man has no name, while Jesus gives a name to the poor Lazarus, to show his dignity and the certainty that “the Lord will help him”. The parable tells of the turnabout of two opposite situations during life and after death of two people, without passing a moral judgement on their conduct, so much so that we do not immediately understand for which reason the rich man is condemned while the poor man is saved. It isn’t said that the rich man was wicked with the servants, thieving, depraved, unobservant of the commandments. It neither says that the poor man was a pious, humble, faithful and hardworking person. Why, then, that turnabout of the situations? It would be reductive to stop at a moralist and devotional reading of the parable: to drum into the poor only the invitation to tolerate unjust and inevitable situations in this life, waiting for the final judgement of God. It would truly be the opium of the people, which sends to sleep the conscience of the rich and the poor.
By this parable Jesus intends to teach that the plan of God for the human family does not tolerate that there be outrageous inequalities: namely “that the filthy rich should live next to a wretched, as long as he does not steal and he gives money to beggars. It is this belief that Jesus intends to change. In the parable He speaks of a rich man who is condemned not because he is evil, but simply because he was rich, that is, because he used to shut himself in and did not accept the sharing of goods. The aim of Jesus is to teach his disciples that the existence in this world of two classes of people – the rich and the poor – is against God’s project. The goods are given for all and those who have more have to share them with those who have less” (F. Armellini).
St. Ambrose expresses this thought in this way: “When you give something to the poor, you do not offer him what is yours, you simply return to him what is already his, because earth and its goods belong to all, not to the rich”. A radical turnabout! A wind gust of hope for a new era of life on earth! God’s alternative project is beautiful and to be implemented in our time; it is the aim before us, the goal to be reached, gradually and through peaceful means. What is important is to walk in the right direction: to become more attentive to the brothers and sisters in need, so that we may share with them the much or little we have, and to contribute, beginning from ourselves, to the spreading of the logic and style of authentic solidarity.
Is it utopia? The last Pontiffs did not hesitate to strongly put it forward again and again in their social encyclicals: John XXIII (Pacem in Terris, 1963), Paul VI (Populorum Progressio, 1967), John Paul II (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 1987), Benedict XVI (Caritas in Veritate, 2009). (*) These social documents have an extraordinary missionary power for that transformation of the world according to God’s project, which is the goal of the Gospel. The message is sublime. It must not be weakened by undermining the doctrine or the praxis through apathy and concessions at all levels: it is to be lived as prophetic and frontier experience.
Where to find the necessary strength to implement such a radical project of God? Today’s parable reminds us twice of the Word: listen to Moses and to the prophets (v. 29:31). The Word is the only power for personal conversion and the world’s transformation. For us today that Word is near, it has become flesh and salvation for all, as St. Paul reminds his disciple Timothy (II Reading).
The Pope's Words
(*) «The rich man personifies the wicked use of riches by those who spend them on uncontrolled and selfish luxuries, thinking solely of satisfying themselves without caring at all for the beggar at their door. The poor man, on the contrary, represents the person whom God alone cares for: unlike the rich man he has a name: “Lazarus”, an abbreviation of “Eleazarus”, which means, precisely, “God helps him”. God does not forget those who are forgotten by all; those who are worthless in human eyes are precious in the Lord’s. The story shows how earthly wickedness is overturned by divine justice…:This parable can also be interpreted in a social perspective. Pope Paul VI’s interpretation of it in his Encyclical Populorum Progressio remains unforgettable. Speaking of the campaign against hunger he wrote: “It is a question... of building a world where every man... can live a fully human life... where the poor man Lazarus can sit down at the same table with the rich man” (n. 47)… The appeal voiced by Paul VI at that time, “Today the peoples in hunger are making a dramatic appeal to the peoples blessed with abundance” (ibid., n. 3), is still equally pressing today».
Benedict XVI – Angelus, 30 September 2007
In the steps of Missionaries
- 27/9: St. Vincent de Paul (1581-1660), French priest, founder of the Institute for the Mission and the Daughters of Charity for the formation of clergy, parish missions and the service to the poor.
- 27/9: World Tourism Day, with this year’s theme (2010): “Tourism and biodiversity”).
- 28/9: St. Lorenzo Ruiz, from Manila, and his 15 companions (priests, religious and lay people), killed at Nagasaki (Japan, 1633-1637), after evangelizing the Far East.
- 28/9: Birth of Confucius in China (551 B.C.).
- 29/9: Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Rafael, servants of God and his messengers to mankind.
- 30/9: St. Jerome (347-420), priest and doctor of the Church, illustrious commentator and translator of the Bible.
- 30/9: World Day for Street Children.
- 1/10: St. Teresa of the Child Jesus (1873-1897), Carmelite in the monastery at Lisieux (France), doctor of the Church, patron of the Mission. She is the daughter of Blessed Louis Martin (1823-1894) and Zélie Marie Guérin (1831-1877), French spouses, beatified on 19.10.2008 at Lisieux.