Thursday of Week 2 of Lent – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 16:19-31

Here we have illustrated in parable form two of Luke’s beatitudes: “Happy are you who are poor, you who are hungry now!” and “Woe to you who are rich, who are filled now!” The linkage with the First Reading is obvious.

On the one hand, you have a rich man dressed in purple and fine linen, both signs of great wealth. He also has a good table and enjoys the choicest of foods every day. While the rich man is sometimes called Dives, this is simply the Latin word for ‘rich’. In reality, the rich man is nameless. In spite of all his money, he is a nobody.

At the same time you have a poor man called Lazarus. He was hungry and longed, like the dogs, to pick up the scraps that might fall from the dining table. The dogs even licked his sores. Dogs were abhorrent to Jews, so this was a particularly degrading thing to happen.

What is striking about this scene is that nothing seems to be happening. The rich man is eating, the poor man is sitting and waiting. There are no words between them. The poor man is not abused or chased away, he is simply ignored, as if he did not exist.

As often as you neglected to do it to the least of these brothers of mine, you neglected to do it to me.

Then both men die. Lazarus is brought by angels to the bosom of Abraham. But the rich man is condemned to an existence of great suffering in Hades, the place of the dead. The rich man now begs for even the slightest relief from the man he ignored in his lifetime. But it is now too late.

The rich man had his chance and he blew it. He had his life of “good things” and he now knows just how “good” they really were. It is now Lazarus’ turn to have the really good things, the companionship of his God.

The rich man begs on behalf of his brothers that they be warned. Abraham replies to him:

They have Moses and the prophets [i.e. the whole Jewish religious tradition].

The rich man responds, “But if only someone would come to them from the dead, they would change their ways.” To which Abraham replies:

If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.

Surely a reference to Jesus himself, and to the many Jews who refused to believe in him even after his resurrection. There are people today who want some special signs from God in order to believe. We have the Good News of the New Testament and the living, experienced presence of Jesus among us. We do not need any more. We have all the guidance we need to lead the kind of life which will ensure we spend our future existence in the company of Lazarus.

And that life is measured not by wealth, status, or power, but in a life of caring and sharing relationships. In a world of extreme consumerism, hedonism and individualism, today’s readings have a very important message. Those who are truly rich are those who enrich the lives of others.

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