Jesus said, "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, `Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' He said, `Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house-- for I have five brothers-- that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
Children of God
This parable truly makes me squirm. Both of the people in this story are extreme examples. Poor Lazarus is someone who is living at the bottom of human existence. He is sick, really sick to the point where dogs are licking his sores.
The rich man is an extreme example of someone with more money than he knows what to do with and yet feels no compassion for a fellow human who lives in abject poverty.
Jesus seems to do this a lot. He uses extreme examples to make a point about how we should change our ways, lift our hearts and souls to God, and see God in all of creation. We humans are pretty complicated. We have times when we pour out our kindness and compassion for others. We have other moments when we selfishly shun others who are in need.
This reading from Luke always reminds me of something that happened to me in India. India is a country where there is extreme wealth and abject poverty. When I lived there in 1972 it was not uncommon to see lepers on the street, their hands and feet gone from the ravages of the disease, leaving only stubs where they had once been. They would be sitting in carts pulled by another leper who was not as far along in the disease. Children could be often seen begging in the streets and train stations. Sometimes those children were deformed in some way. I found out later that their handlers would harm these children in such a way so that they would generate more money.
When I first arrived in India it was a real culture shock for me. I was appalled by the poverty but the truly appalling thing for me personally came later. After several months of living there I became hardened to my surroundings. This leads me to my own story.
I had been living in India for over three months and one evening I was waiting in a train station to catch a train to Patna, where I was living. As I was sitting on a bench a young man came up to me, held out his hand and said baksheesh. He was asking for money. I shook my head in refusal and waived him off. I was tired of beggars. The man walked off and stood apart from me, maybe twenty feet away.
As I continued to wait for the train I decided to eat something before the train arrived. I reached into my satchel and took out a banana and proceeded to peel it. After the first bite I noticed there was a bruise on the banana and discarded the rest of it in the waste container next to me.
When the beggar noticed what I had done, he walked over to the basket, took the partially eaten banana out of the garbage can and ate the rest of it. That was the most powerful moment of my entire stay in India.
I had been prayerfully meditating for over a year. I had been traveling with monks and doing all kinds of holy practices. However, it was not until I met this child of God who truly needed my compassion that I realized how little I had learned and how far I needed to go on my spiritual journey.
We are all works in progress. We are all sinners. That was my sin, that day. God came to me through a beggar at a railway station in India and changed my life forever.
Jesus tells us stories so that we can reflect on how we are progressing on our spiritual journey. Let us listen, reflect and take heart.