Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
On Our Doorsteps
The irony of Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus is this: the rich man, who cried for mercy from the netherworld, never showed mercy to the poor man dumped at his doorstep. The parable suggests to me that the rich man had to step over Lazarus on his comings and goings and never noticed him.
Like his brothers, to whom he begged Abraham visit, the rich man had torah--the law and the prophets. Prophet Amos, we heard, reminded that fidelity to God does not allow for wanton revelry, which leads to complacent, inattentive attitude toward the poor. An older use of wanton fits here: playfully mean or cruel.
This was not new in Jesus' day. This was a sentiment among many ancients. In the later first century when Luke wrote his gospel and Acts of the Apostles to help us remember Jesus, the wealthy and any fortunate enough to read knew a similar description from a Roman, non-Christian poet:
Wearied and hopeless, the old clients leave the door, though the last hope that a man relinquishes is that of a dinner; the poor wretches must buy their cabbage and their fuel. Meanwhile their lordly patron will be devouring the choicest products of wood and sea, lying alone upon an empty couch; yes, at a single meal from their many fine large and antique tables they devour whole fortunes. Ere long no parasites will be left! Who can bear to see luxury so mean? What a huge gullet to have a whole boar—an animal created for conviviality—served up to it! But you will soon pay for it, my friend, when you take off your clothes, and with distended stomach carry your peacock into the bath undigested! Hence a sudden death, and an...old age [without a will]; the new and merry tale runs the round of every dinner-table, and the corpse is carried forth to burial amid the cheers of enraged friends!/1/
Our stewardship of the earth begins with one another. The proverb has it: “Charity begins at home,” and I add, “while watching the news.” Whenever a scene of malnourished children or adults, a scene of people ravaged by disasters, by war, by other kinds of violent hatred would appear on the screen, I’d hear my mother sigh. It was the same sound mom made when she would be with me when I was sick. Even for strangers my mother felt--and still feels--compassionate concern. My mother allowed another’s suffering to touch her. My mom alerts me to the arrogant and heard-hearted rich man, who treated Lazarus like a servant: cool my tongue and warn [my brothers] lest they too come to this place of torment. After life this was more attention the rich man ever gave Lazarus, whose name means God is my help.
The rich man, and by implication his brothers, were heard-hearted and would reject any visit by God to them--even if someone were to rise from the dead.
Someone recently reminded me that God is always present to us; we are not always present to God. To help Lazarus on the doorsteps of our poorest metropolis, Cleveland, begins when our notice of them moves our hearts with compassion to show compassion. If Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus causes us to feel, “I don’t want to be like the rich man!” then our hearts are not hardened, and we are not hopeless. Plus, that feeling is our cue that Jesus has visited us in yet another way.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, be more aware how the Trinity lavishly blesses you. Ask Lazarus to introduce you to Jesus so you may converse with our crucified and risen One. In addition to expressing gratitude consider your gifts as ways in which Jesus visits you. The words of Jesus and the apostles remind us to feed the hungry, who are one way Jesus visits us. Resolve how you can respond to Jesus visiting you. Close by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer, which keeps our hearts supple so we can show more readily to others Jesus’ love for us.
/1/ Juvenal, Satires 1:130-144.
/2/ The Greek Lazarus translates the Hebrew, Eliezer, which has this meaning.
Wiki-image of the rich man and Lazarus is in the public doimain. Wiki-photo by Lisa Chamberlain of downtown Cleveland is used under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 license.