26TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C ON SEPTEMBER 29, 2019 (R. 1: Amos 6: 1a, 4- 7; Psalm 146: 7- 10; R. 2: 1 Timothy 6: 11- 16; Gospel: Luke 16: 19- 31)
REV FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
BUT HE DID NOTHING!
My Dearly Beloved in Christ, it is my honor and pleasure to summon you for jury duty this morning. The judgment was passed long ago; before you were born, and before I was born. However, some concerned individuals have appealed to this honorable court for a retrial of the case. The case is between an unnamed rich man and a named poor man. As at the time the case first came to court, the rich man had no name, but long after the judgment was passed, some concerned individuals gave him a name, which was more of a description, they called him Dives, a Latin word which means “Rich.” The poor man had a name right from the beginning; he was called Lazarus.
In the judgment, the rich man was found guilty, sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labor, rendered incommunicado, condemned to eternal dehydration, with a particular order of no rehydration. The poor man was awarded a huge amount of money for damages, and with that, he got himself one of the best mansions in the best city ever. Our duty as jurors this morning, is to revisit this case. Did the rich man do anything wrong to deserve his punishment? Is Lazarus worth all that he is enjoying now?
Let us reexamine the facts that are available to us. Was Lazarus a good man? What did he do? He did nothing! We are not aware of any. He did not say a word, he never lifted a finger, he never took a step, he was always sitting down, and he is still sitting down. While on earth, he sat at the entrance of the rich man’s house, now in heaven he is seated beside Abraham, and even during his passage to heaven, he was carried by the angels. He did nothing; better described as “lazy bones.” Perhaps his poverty was due to his laziness. Is Laziness now a virtue? Why did he go to heaven? What about the rich man, what did he do? He did nothing! We were not told that he stole his wealth from Lazarus, we were not told that he mistreated his servants, we were not told that he cursed, neither were we told that he swore. Can we even say that he was rough with Lazarus? If he were, Lazarus would not have remained at his door. What did he do then? He did nothing!
There is something peculiar to this parable. Jesus does not call his characters by name in his parables. He would say a certain sower went to sow; a woman lost a coin, a Pharisee and a Tax Collector went to pray, a man had two sons, etc. But in this case, he named one of his characters Lazarus. This tells us how the table will be turned in the next world. In this world, when we listen to the news, it is the rich that are named, while the poor are bundled up together as “et cetera.” But in Jesus’ scheme of things, the poor are named while the rich are anonymous. Unfortunately, the rich man does not seem to understand that the table has been turned. He thinks that Lazarus should be his servant to be ordered around to give him water and to go on an errand to his five brothers.
The name Lazarus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Eleazar, which means “God is my Help.” This name gives us an insight into the person of Lazarus as not just a poor man but a poor man who believed and trusted in God. The good thing about poverty is that it helps us to rely on God; to be God-confident rather than self-confident. The Book of Psalms says, “Our Help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8). It also says, “Those who place their trust in God will not be put to shame” (Psalm 25: 3).
Wealth, on the contrary, gives us a false sense of security. Jesus would even warn that it will be easier for the camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to go to heaven (cf. Matthew 19: 23-26). One shameful aspect of wealth that is condemned by today’s first reading is complacency. Riches can make us feel very comfortable and careless about the yawning gap between the rich and the inhumanly poor. The sin of the rich man in the gospel passage was that he did nothing. He was insensitive to the plight of Lazarus. The wall the rich man willingly built in this life against the poor, becomes after his death, a chasm that no one can bridge. The time to break down barriers and build bridges is now.
My Dearly Beloved in Christ, did I say at the beginning of this homily that I was summoning you for jury duty? Never mind, I take back my words. The bad news is that the case of Lazarus and the rich man was decided by the Most Supreme Court of Justice. The judgment cannot be overturned by a lower court. But here is the good news; your own case has not been decided; mine too is yet to be determined. We still have the time to decide on where we want to spend our eternity; either with Lazarus or the rich man. But I don’t know how much time we have.
For the time being, how comfortable are we with the different forms of discrimination that are eating up our society? Are we less bothered because we belong to the privileged class? It may not be how much you have in your bank account; it may be that you are so likable and you have so many friends; does that make you feel less concerned about that lonely neighbor on the street who is friendless and forlorn and has no one to listen to his/her story? What about a situation where you are privileged to know the truth about an incidence, and you see that an innocent person has been accused and already being sentenced to prison; do you just comfortably keep quiet because the person does not go to your Church, look like you, speak like you or is not capable of rewarding you? Maybe your parent, spouse, sibling, neighbor, or a strange person offended you. Are you so comfortable about the situation because you are the righteous one, and not ready to do anything about it? Or are you bold enough to offer forgiveness even when it has not been asked of you?
We have a choice to make here. Either we embrace the temporary comfort of this life and face eternal discomfort, or we welcome the temporary discomfort of this life and enjoy eternal comfort. Pope Benedict VI says, “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” Now is the time to decide!