The following is a reflection on today’s readings from “Living The Word” (World Library Publications):
The Gospel of Luke deserves the title “Gospel of Social Justice.” Today’s reading is a perfect example of Luke’s concern for the poor and vulnerable. The rich man dresses and banquets in splendid fashion every day. Lazarus, a poor man, lies at the door of the rich man covered with sores and eager to eat even the scraps from the rich man’s table.
Then there is a startling reversal of fortunes. Lazarus dies and merits a place of honor with Abraham; the rich man at his death is confined to the torments of the netherworld. Abraham insists that the chasm between the two main characters in this parable is unbridgeable. The rich man and his brothers did not respond to the need for repentance, another important theme of Luke.
The rich man “cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me’” (Luke 16:24), but to be a true child of Abraham requires more than being a genetic descendant. One must imitate the truly living faith of Abraham manifested by good deeds. Having refused mercy to Lazarus, the rich man nevertheless asks pity from Abraham.
It is important to note that it is the improper use of wealth that is the problem here. Both the Old Testament and Jesus demanded the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable. “The needy will never be lacking in the land; that is why I command you to open your hand to your poor and needy kinsman in your country” (Deuteronomy 15:11). In his description of the Last Judgment Jesus calls lack of concern for the poor and needy lack of concern for him (Matthew 25:31-46).
Jesus addressed this parable to the Pharisees, “who loved money, heard all these things and sneered at him” (Luke 16:14). However, Luke wants every generation of Christians to take to heart the lesson of this parable. Followers of Jesus must reach out to the poor.
As a footnote, the Christian reader will also see an allusion to Christ’s death and resurrection in Abraham’s statement that the brothers would not repent even if “someone should rise from the dead” (16:31).