The purpose of gold
The parable of Lazarus is one of the most famous texts of the Gospel of St. Luke and does not speak of the poor, but of the rich man. He is not described like a monster, but as someone afflicted by one of Mammon’s most dangerous children: indifference.
Readings: Luke 16: 19-31
The following homily was preached at compline to the student brothers. You can listen here or read below.
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man is probably one of the most famous Gospel passages. The reason is not only the vivid description of the afterlife, but also a terrifying question that lurks under the story: why did the rich man end up in hell? If we read the text carefully, we will find that the answer is not as obvious as we might think. Apparently, the rich man is responsible neither for the poverty of Lazarus nor for his death; moreover, we do not know if the poor man died because of his living conditions or simply because of his age. On the other hand, we are not sure that the rich man was actually a bad person during his life. For example, it is possible that he had used his richness for some good cause or to make donations to the Temple. Indeed, all we know about this man is that he enjoyed his wealth and did not help Lazarus.
An important key to understanding this situation is this verse: «”My son” Abraham replied “remember that during your life good things came your way, just as bad things came the way of Lazarus. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony […]”». (Lk 16, 25)
Reading this verse, it could be said that the different conditions of the two men in the afterlife are a sort of compensation for lives differently kissed by fortune. This interpretation could be acceptable because St. Luke does not speak of goods conquered or taken by the rich man, as if he were a thief, but only of something that he has received. However, the idea that our eternal existence would be a kind of balance of fortune enjoyed on this earth is totally unacceptable: in fact, in this case, the eternal destinies of Lazarus and the rich man would not be linked to their faith or their moral life.
I think that, to solve this problem, it is necessary to consider not what is missing in the story but what is present. The only thing we know is that the rich man had a lot of goods and that he didn’t help Lazarus even if he could. We can conclude that the two different fortunes of men are linked to each other: the bad things received by Lazarus are the consequences of the goods that the rich man did not give to him; consequently, the necessary condition for the rich man’s comfortable life was his indifference towards Lazarus. In fact, only if I never divide my possessions, I can live my whole life without experiencing the renunciation that comes from sharing.
It is important, at this point, to understand that the purpose of this parable is not to show how one gets to heaven but, above all, to explain why the rich man is in hell. It means that what we should ask ourselves now is why indifference is a mortal sin. First of all, it must be said that indifference is guilty if it refers to a good that we should have done or donated. For example, I cannot say that someone is indifferent if he doesn’t care about people far away in the world: he would probably be a better man if he did, but it would certainly be unfair to say that it is his duty. The reason is that indifference is the denial of a good deed that is within our power to know and to do. The consequence of these considerations is that the rich man has been sent to hell because it was his duty to share his goods not simply with some unspecified person, but with Lazarus, the person in need who knocked on his door. On the other hand, it means that Lazarus, as a poor man, had the right to receive a part of the rich man’s possessions.
Despite the appearances, being rich is not a fault, but a responsibility: in God’s Love, coming from Faith in Christ, the abundance of possessions is an opportunity, given by the Lord Himself, to participate in the life of the Most Holy Trinity considering any good created as something to be shared. On the other hand, being poor is not a sentence but a call to be a living opportunity for someone else to love. To follow these two difficult vocations it’s necessary to have faith in God: whoever is rich must entrust himself to Him in sharing his goods, since only in God can one find a kind of happiness that renunciation cannot affect; whoever is poor must live his weakness in offering himself to the Lord’s Will.
The indifference of the rich man, by which he violated Lazarus’s right to share his goods, was the result of an existence not rooted in the faith, in that trust in God that makes us free. This condition has prevented the rich man from understanding both his own vocation and the Power of God. A confirmation of this last point comes from the end of the text: asking for supernatural help for his brothers, the rich man proves his lack of faith in God, a problem in the face of which not even the Resurrection could be sufficient proof.