Option for the Poor by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Jesus said to the Pharisees: "There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.' Abraham replied, 'My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.' He said, 'Then I beg you, father, send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.' But Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen them.' He said, 'Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' Then Abraham said, 'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.'"
Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. He came to us, sent by our heavenly Father, to redeem the world from sin, death and the power of Satan, to reconcile us with the Father and to teach us the path to the fullness of life. Our Lord's parables are particularly important stories that teach critical truths about this "way" which leads to peace and happiness.
Today's Gospel parable about the rich man and Lazarus is a handcrafted story which enables Christ to teach with precision that each of His disciples must have a special place in his heart for the poor.
Christ describes Lazarus as a poor man, covered with sores and desiring to eat the scraps from the rich man's table. As if that description was not enough to encourage compassion in the heart of His disciples, He adds that dogs even used to come and lick his sores. Jesus is revealing His heart. He sees the pain and anguish of the poor and the sick, and it stirs His emotions.
The rich man dresses well and dines sumptuously. The evil is that he does not see poor Lazarus lying at his door. His failure to see or do anything about this poor man is the only reason given in the passage for his existence after his death in "the netherworld, where he was in torment." It was obviously a determining factor in how he was judged upon his exit from this world.
Jesus gives a hint at the solution when He describes the rich man's interaction with Abraham, in whose bosom Lazarus rests upon his death. Abraham reprimands the rich man: "Remember that you received what was good during your lifetime." His blessings on earth were a gift from God. He received them. Sure, he may have been clever, hard working and industrious, but those gifts came from God as well. His success in business and life came from God, but he failed to recognize those gifts and to realize that he was supposed to share his gifts with the poor, the sick and the not-so-clever of this world. He sinned by failing to thank God for his gifts and failing to share his gifts with others.
I had a recent experience which made this truth of our Christian faith real and tangible. I met with a friend a couple of weeks ago to have a serious conversation about some recent trials in his life. We were sitting outside of an ice cream shop when a homeless man approached us to engage in conversation and ask for some assistance. I was impressed when my friend took him into a nearby sub shop and bought him dinner. He interrupted his own conversation with me and attended to this man's needs for companionship and food. It warmed my heart.
My friend reminded me that to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to have an option for the poor, the sick and the starving of this world. Today's parable makes it painfully obvious that this is a non-negotiable aspect of the "way." If we plow through life so concerned about our own needs and hurts that we cannot see or attend to the suffering of our neighbor, we are not His disciple, we will not experience "life" on this earth, and we will not be one who has embraced the full truth of the Gospel. Jesus says that if we fail to see the Lazarus around us and do nothing to alleviate his suffering, we will not be happy come judgment day.
On the contrary, as we come to know and love Jesus as our Savior and our brother, we will begin to love those whom He loves, see what He sees and take care of those who are hurting around us. Lord, grant me a heart for the poor, the sick and the hungry.
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