Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 29, 2019)
Our God has a thing about names. He changed Abram’s name to Abraham, Simon’s to Peter. Jesus told many parables. Do you realize that today’s parable is the only one in which a participant has a name: Lazarus [which means: God helps]?
Early in the last century, an official English translation of the official Latin text took “dives,” the Latin adjective meaning “rich” and mistakenly personified it, made it a person’s name – a mistake many of you probably remember. This was called the parable of Dives and Lazarus.
The rich man wore a purple robe with fabric dyed with a pricey die from Tyre then called “Tyrean red.” Only the wealthy and royalty could afford it. Bread was also used as a napkin at that time. It was used and discarded and may well have been all that kept Lazarus alive.
As we heard, when the rich man died after Lazarus, he saw Lazarus sitting next to Abraham in the place of honor. He is still trying to give orders: have pity…send Lazarus to dip his finger . . . Send him to my father’s house.” Abraham gently calls the rich man “my child” and reminds him that he was once rich and Lazarus, poor, and that there is now a great chasm between them. Abraham is not angry with the rich man; he simply states the facts. When the rich man wants his brothers warned, Abraham simply states that the brothers have had the words of “Moses and the prophets;” that is, the Hebrew scriptures. Lazarus, previously, and his brothers, currently, have not listened to scripture. Jesus ironically closes the parable, putting the words in Abraham’s mouth: “Neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.” Listening works. The spectacular does not.
The parable is not complex. Listening is our response to scripture, the voice of God. When one does not listen, there are consequences. Abraham’s tone is not angry, not vindictive. The rich man is not portrayed as a terrible person; Lazarus is not portrayed as a virtuous person. Abraham simply repeats a teaching: how one uses one’s earthly resources is very important, and there is a consequence for neglecting the poor.
Death is a pivotal event in the parable; it is like an official’s game-ending whistle or the courtside, final horn. Their sound marks the end of opportunity. The consequence of our real-time effort then plays out; one reaps what one has sown. Faith and hope are no more, leaving love / charity as the greatest and the forever virtue.
We recall Jesus’ words: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.” Each of us needs to listen whether it is between two of us or as a whole community. We need to live a reflective, not a hyperactive lifestyle. Hyperactivity numbs us. Being reflective allows us to be a listener - a listener both to Jesus and to the cry of the poor.