Homily for the 26th Sunday of the Year

25 September 2022

DIVES AND LAZARUS

In the Gospel today we have the parable of Dives and Lazarus. We normally understand the central message of this parable to be about charity. Understandably so, as that is indeed a central theme of Jesus’ preaching. However, it is interesting for us to take a close look at this story to see what is in the story and what is inferred?

For example, what is actually stated in this parable that Dives was rich, that he lived in luxury each day and that Lazarus lay at his gate and the dogs licked his sores. It is stated that they both died, Dives was damned, and Lazarus was saved. What is not actually said by Jesus, but only inferred by us, is that Dives was not a faithful man, or that he never helped Lazarus and/or was culpably blind to his suffering. Nor is it said explicitly that Dives was, himself, a sinner or that Lazarus was pious and virtuous

So, an awful lot remains for the hearer’s inference… And we infer it for good reason. The collateral information that we have is the example of Jesus compassion to the poor and his compassion for those who are suffering. We also know the general tenor of Jesus’ other teachings, particularly when he says, “whatever you do to the least of these you do it to me”, explicitly stating that neglecting the Corporal Works of Mercy will lead to damnation and engaging them will lead to salvation. We also hear the general message that neglect of the poor and suffering is unpleasing to God throughout the Old Testament, not least of all in the prophet Amos, from whose book the First Reading is taken today. Care for the suffering and poor is demanded by God and this is unequivocal in the Scriptures, with Jesus certainly linking our salvation to our response to this command.

But this message is only implied in today’s Gospel, even if we generally do take it to be the parable’s central message. So, what do we think, then, that Jesus is particularly trying to drive home to the Pharisees in this parable?

Firstly, perhaps we can start with the inferences we make. The best inference we can make is that Dives was blinded, culpably, to Lazarus’s suffering and chose to do nothing to alleviate it. It would also legitimate to understand Jesus’ to be implying that it is his riches and life of self-assured luxury that is a significant factor in this blindness. This is consistent also with the message of the prophet, Amos, who shows how the more the people of Israel turn away from God and trust in themselves, the more their indifference to what is right is manifest, particularly in the neglect of the poor (“Joseph’s plight”).

Secondly, two questions that are raised by the Gospel are “is being rich inherently something that will result in damnation and is being poor and suffering inherently something that results in salvation?” At a stark reading, it seems to be the implication of what Jesus is saying. This idea would be the exact opposite of the idea that people suffered illness and misfortune in this life as a punishment for sin – an idea we see in the Gospels as very present in people’s minds at the time of Jesus – and of the corollary dominant Jewish narrative that saw blessing in this life as blessing from God. These theological narratives, Jesus certainly sought to challenge. They are narratives which still exist today in the preaching of a “prosperity gospel” where material blessings are thought to show favour from God.

Jesus particularly challenges this narrative in the story of the Man Born Blind where he is asked “who sinned, this man or his parents”. And Jesus’ response is to show how their focus causes them to ask the wrong question. He says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Jesus demands that the people look beyond the confines and limitations of the material world and favour and want and see the One who can bring wholeness. Being caught up in the questions of material blessing and curse blind not the one who cannot see, but the one who cannot recognize and understand.

Thirdly, we can look at where this Gospel comes in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus has concluded his Galilean ministry and has begun his Journey to Jerusalem. On this journey, Jesus tells various parables and has a few encounters – we have been hearing these stories for the past couple of weeks and will carry on for the next few weeks. He heals on the Sabbath to challenge the limited understanding of the Law, he tells the parable of the dishonest steward to show the utility of money and the primacy of the Kingdom, he will give the parable of the Mustard Seed which shows how much power exists in faith that we miss because of our preoccupation with the world, and he praises the one leper who returns to give glory to God because he has looked beyond his physical healing and seen the presence of God in his encounter with Jesus.

These stories all have a similar message of Jesus calling people to look beyond what they see with their eyes blinkered by sin and a preoccupation with the material world. He invites them to recognize the presence of the Kingdom of God and the priority that it should have in our lives. These eyes of faith will be necessary to look at the Cross, an earthly symbol of defeat, and see rather the Victory over sin and death.

It also seems that, although the Kingdom is just as close to everybody, some notice it, and some do not. Some see and believe, repent and follow, and others choose to ignore. And the consistent message of Jesus is that those who have made themselves comfortable and self-assured in this life are far less likely to be willing to follow than those who have very little.

Indeed, the crux of today’s story comes in the words of Abraham who says to Dives that if people hadn’t listen to Moses or the prophets, they wouldn’t listen to someone even who had risen from the dead – a stark foreshadowing that even the fact of the Resurrection which is to come will fall on deaf ears and hard hearts that do not want to be budged from their complacency nor called to a new life. And that complacency will cost them their salvation.

So, yes, Dives probably did ignore Lazarus’s suffering, and indeed was judged for that. But we are invited today to look to the reason for Dives’ blindness – the idolatry of his self-sufficiency that was made manifest in his hard heart – not just being unable to be moved by the suffering of Lazarus, but also unable to recognize the presence of the Kingdom of God which is so very near to us.

In what ways are we self-assured such that we have become blind to the Kingdom of God and complacent that are discipleship is confined and neatly contained? What are the idols in our lives that will always emerge victorious when pitted against the demands of the Gospel and the call of discipleship? What comforts and security have I created for myself that have taken up so much space in my life that I cannot imagine being called to renounce them? We must hear the challenge in the Gospel to have our eyes clearly fixed on heaven and the treasures that lead us there, the security of our eternal life that exists only in discipleship of Our Lord, a life of imitation of him and obedience to his Word. It is time to reorient ourselves, our spaces, our families, our lives, to reflect the primacy of the Kingdom, of holiness, virtue, compassion, and discipleship, rather than allowing our self-sufficiency and material gains to be our pride. 

Let us hear the words of our dear patron St Bernadette to encourage us to a spirit of detachment and the need to establish in our lives the primacy of our discipleship, conversion and salvation. She says:

Jesus does not want us to be attached to possessions, to human honours, to creatures. He asks humility. But His love and His generosity make this detachment less difficult and less cruel to our nature. Nothing else matters to me anymore, nothing has any value for me but Jesus, no place, no thing, no person, no idea, no feeling, no honour, no suffering, nothing that can turn me away from Jesus. For me, Jesus Himself is my honour, my delight, my heart, my spirit, He whom I love, what I love, my home Heaven here on earth. Jesus is my treasure and my love and Jesus crucified is my only happiness.

 

AMEN

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