Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 25, 2016
Fr. José Maria Alvim Cortex, F.S.C.B.

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In today's gospel, Christ us strongly urges us to practice charity: love of God and our brothers. The more we love our Lord, the more shall we see the dignity of each person.

Jesus tells us a parable about two men, two very different men. One is rich and the other is poor. One is dressed in purple and fine linen, and the other is in rags. One is healthy and the other is sick. One enjoys sumptuous dinners and the other goes hungry. One has a closed heart and the other an open heart. One is not named in the Gospel and the other is named Lazarus.

Lazarus is lying in front of the door of the rich man’s palace. He is begging for something to eat. We could imagine the rich man looking away from Lazarus as he passed him. We could imagine the indifference and coolness of his look. In addition, we could imagine him thinking: “Again this unpleasant Lazarus! When will he leave my door?”

Moreover, one day he left. The rich man thought: “Finally he is gone! Now my beautiful door is free! I do not have to look at that disgusting Lazarus anymore.”

However, after some months the rich man also departed. He went to the best hospital. The best doctors in the world tried to cure him but he died. He had a huge funeral and was buried in a sumptuous vault.

Then everything changes. Now we find the two men in different situations: one is in torment and the other is in delight. One is suffering from extreme thirst and the other is satiated. One is sad and the other is exultant. The rich man is alone and Lazarus is with Abraham.

What does Jesus want to tell us with this parable? Jesus is clearly opposed to the attitude of the rich man. Why? Is it because he was rich? I do not think so. Jesus had friends who were rich, such as Zaccheo, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimatea etc.

The rich man has no name. This detail is very important because it means that he is someone whom God does not know. That man’s heart was closed to God. He did not allow God to know him. He did not have a relationship with his creator. “To know by name,” means intimacy in the Bible.

Nevertheless, he was not only closed to God but he was also closed to others. His problem was not that he was rich but that he was not concerned about Lazarus. He was insensitive to someone in need, whom he could have helped.

The rich man forgot the dignity of the other, the dignity of every person, his destiny. He forgot that no one is a stranger.

The Gospel shows us that one separation in this world becomes an insurmountable abyss in eternity, as Abraham said to the rich man: “Between us and you, a great chasm is established” (Lk 16:26).

However, this failure to perceive Lazarus as a brother arises from the rich man’s lack of fear of God. He was far from the Lord. In him, we can understand the words of Saint John in his first letter: “If anyone is well off in worldly possessions and sees his brother in need but closes his heart to him, how can the love of God be remaining in him?” (1 John 4: 16–17).

Jesus condemns the indifference of the rich man, the absence of love in his life. On the day of the Last Judgment, we shall be judged by how we loved: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25: 34–36).

We can see this exemplified by Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Her great love of God overflowed in serving “the poorest of the poor,” as she used to say. I shall quote from her acceptance speech when she received the Nobel Prize: “[…] As that man whom we picked up from the drain, half eaten with worms, and we brought him to the home [said]: ‘I have lived like an animal in the street, but I am going to die like an angel, loved and cared for.’ Moreover, it was so wonderful to see the greatness of that man who could speak like that, who could die like that without blaming anybody, without cursing anybody, without comparing anything. Like an angel. That is why we believe what Jesus had said: I was hungry—I was naked—I was homeless—I was unwanted, unloved, uncared for—and you did it to me.”

To love Jesus means to love those who are in need. Jesus identifies himself with them. Let us ask for the grace that our faith may always blossom in charitable initiatives toward the poor. Amen.

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