Homily for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

posted 26 Sept 2022, 01:19 by Parish Office
Day of Prayer in Thanksgiving for the Harvest (24 & 25/9/22)
The rich man and Lazarus – it’s quite a worrying parable. How many of us here are like Lazarus, living on the streets, hungry and poor? How many of us have a fairly comfortable life, always having enough to eat and a house to live in? But the characters of the rich man and Lazarus are not quite so one-dimensional as we might think. Let’s delve a little deeper.

The rich man was a bit, or maybe quite a bit, of a show-off. Today, wearing purple means nothing, but back then it was extremely expensive. Purple dye came from the murex sea snail, with each snail yielding only a tiny, tiny amount, so it took loads of them to dye a garment. Purple was worn only by royalty and those who could afford to live like royalty. The rich man also used to feast magnificently each day, so he may have had servants and probably also invited his rich friends round as well. He is showing off how much money he has, and how he is enjoying life.

The poor man is called Lazarus. In the Scriptures, someone’s name isn’t just a random choice, but it tells you something important about the person. The name Lazarus means “God helps”. Lazarus has no help from anyone, and so he relies totally on God.

Lazarus is also in a very pitiable condition. He is not only poor and hungry, but instead of sitting by the gate to beg, he lies there. He might be paralysed, too weak to sit up, and might need to be carried around. He might even be too weak to raise his hand to ask for food. Back in 1st century Palestine, there were no rubbish bins and dust bin collections. People would throw the scraps of leftover food over the wall, and the wild dogs would help themselves. Lazarus is too weak to make his way over to eat any discarded remains of the rich man’s banquet. He just lies there and the dogs come and lick his wounds.

The rich man has become too selfish in his wealth, and too indifferent to the plight of others. Yes, there are poor people around, but what do you expect me to do about it? Or perhaps he is so busy enjoying himself that he doesn’t want to go to the effort of helping others; maybe he even doesn’t want to notice them. He just can’t be bothered to help. Surely you can’t expect me to mix with people like that? I need to look after and feed people of my own class.

They both find out, that if there isn’t always justice in this world, then there is in the next. The rich man recognises that his fate is permanent; he sees Lazarus in paradise with Abraham, but some of his attitudes still haven’t changed. He still wants Lazarus to work as a slave and come and cool his tongue. Abraham recognises the rich man as one of his, though lost. He calls him, “My son”. It reminds us of the warning that John the Baptist gave to the Pharisees, that being children of Abraham does not guarantee salvation. Your faith needs to bear the appropriate fruits.

The rich man realises that nothing can now change for him, but what about his brothers? Maybe Lazarus can be sent to warn them. But they already have their warning from the Scriptures – that’s what the phrase “Moses and the prophets” means. If they are so obstinate in their rejection of certain parts of their faith, then “they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead”.

There’s a clever warning here. The reading began by saying that Jesus was preaching, not to a general crowd of people, but to the Pharisees. They were the Jews who thought they lived the faith to a higher standard than everyone else, but in the process, they had distorted it. They had rejected the core, leaving just the externals. And the chances were, that even when Christ rose from the dead, they still would not believe.

Some years ago, I was speaking to a friend from school, who told me he no longer eats meat. He said to me, “The thing I like about being a vegetarian, is that it gives you a sense of moral superiority over everyone else”. I said to him, “You ought to try becoming a Catholic”. Is there the danger that we ourselves can take on something of the approach of the Pharisees, and the rich man? Are our hearts open, or are they closed? Who are the Lazaruses in our life? Conversely, with the rise in gas and electricity bills, we might be feeling more in sympathy with Lazarus, whose name means “God helps”.

As Catholics, we have a high calling. Those to whom more is given, more is expected. Or as St Paul writes today in the second reading: “I put to you the duty of doing all that you have been told, with no faults or failures.”