To read the texts click on the texts: Am 6:1a, 4-7; 1 Tim 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31
While at first reading, both the text from Amos and the Gospel text of today might seem to indicate that riches are bad, or that luxury is to be shunned, or that one must live an ascetic life. A deeper reading however, indicates that the core question of these texts is “Am I my brother/sister’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9). Riches and luxury are a problem when they are gained at the expense of others’ misery. They are a problem when they deaden the mind and the senses to responsibility. They are a problem when they become ends in themselves or when those who possess them become insensitive and unfeeling to the needs of others around them.
This is what the readings of today seem to point to. The Gospel parable of today has often been titled as the parable of “Dives and Lazarus”. It may be seen to be divided into three parts. In the first part, the focus is on rich man’s opulence and wealth. The rich man is not named. The Latin term “dives” means “rich”. In the second part, the focus is on the rich man’s death and burial. In the third part, which is the longest, there is, for the first time in the story, a dialogue. It is between the rich man and Abraham and this is the climax of the story.
The story begins by describing the rich man and his dress and food. The “purple and fine linen” may signify that he was a high ranking official, since the Romans had set standards regarding who could wear purple and how much purple they could wear. In contrast to the rich man, there is a poor man, named Lazarus. It is significant that Lazarus is the only character in any of Jesus’ parables who is given a name. The name Lazarus means “God helps”. The fact that he is at the gate of the rich man’s house signifies that, though the rich man could see Lazarus, he was not aware of his existence. He was so caught up in his world of material things; he was so caught up in his luxuries and personal enjoyment, that he was unable to see reality right before him. The problem was not so much the riches or luxuries that the rich man was enjoying but that they had blinded him from the reality around him. They had made him immune to the suffering of those whom he could see.
Amos speaks, in the first reading of today, of this same callous attitude on the part of the rich. These are the ones who, like the rich man of the parable, have lived lives of ease and eaten their fill, without being concerned about the numerous poor and their unmet needs. This is why they are the ones who will be the first to suffer exile and punishment. They have not been their brother/sister’s keepers.
God, however, is the keeper of the poor as is made explicit in the detail found in the Gospel. Lazarus was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man may have deliberately ignored Lazarus and pretended that he did not exist, but God is aware of Lazarus. God indeed came to Lazarus’ help. The death of the rich man, in contrast, is described in a short sentence: “The rich man also died and was buried.” This indicates both that he was forgotten soon after his death and strikingly, how transient is his opulence and wealth. His riches are of no consequence now. He has to leave all that he has behind. He can take nothing with him. No matter how rich he was, or how much he possessed, he had to let go when his time was up.
None of us knows when that time will be, but all know that we can take nothing with us. Paul exhorts Timothy, in the second reading of today, to shun riches which can be as shown, in the case of the rich man and to the people of Amos’ time, as the root of many evils. He must pursue instead that which remains, even when all else has gone, namely, concern for others manifested in unconditional love. It is love alone which is eternal and which does not die. It is love alone which remains forever. This is the love that was manifested by Jesus from the beginning of his ministry right to the time that he stood, witnessed before Pilate, and was put to death. Jesus lived a life that showed that every human being was his brother or sister and he was indeed, their keeper. As disciples of Jesus, we have to realize that each one of us, like Jesus, is indeed, our brother or sister’s keeper.
A number of questions to which there are no easy answers are raised by this parable and we must reflect on them constantly if we are not to lose touch with reality.
Ø Can I be accused of sins of lack of concern, inability to assess the reality of situations, closing my eyes and ears to the injustices around me, being caught up in my own small world? Does my reflection on sin include “sins of omission”?
Ø Is my attitude towards those less fortunate than I one of condescension? Do I regard them as persons, like myself?
Ø Did the brothers of the rich man get the message?
Ø How would you like to conclude the story? Place yourself in the position of the rich man’s brothers and write down what you would do to ensure that you do not suffer the same fate as the rich man.