Friday, September 27, 2013

What Lazarus Teaches Us

It’s always a fascinating thing to look at the Gospel when you don’t have to. Many people in church on a Sunday – am I giving something away here? – come to the end of the reading of the Gospel at Mass, dutifully standing up, and sit down for the homily realizing that they hadn’t really heard a thing. Instead, they had noticed the way that wall seemed to lean a little bit or the kid squirrelling around in his seat, or they had been thinking about sports, or people in their lives, or what they would do this afternoon. Now of course you are not one of those people. But you may be able to imagine them.

Therefore, I’ll give you a heads-up about the Gospel for this coming Sunday. It’s about the rich man who had a poor man named Lazarus begging at the gate, longing for some scraps. And when they both died, Hollywood couldn’t have come up with a better story of what happens. See Luke 16:19-31 if you’re curious.

The interesting part of the story for me is that the rich man ends up asking if the poor man could do him a favour. It’s as if he knew that Lazarus would be better disposed towards someone in suffering. Only when he was himself suffering did the rich man learn the reality and value of compassion. But it was a bit too late, and he couldn’t even share this newfound knowledge with others, let alone act on it. Time had run out.

The text has Abraham describing a “great chasm” between the world of the rich man and the world of the poor man. This was certainly true during their lives, and it became even more true in death. In life, the poor man literally sat at the rich man’s gate, begging, and in death the rich man also sat at the poor man’s “gate,” begging, but the chasm was much larger and could not be breached. It wouldn’t take much effort to think of similar situations in our own lives, where personal and social chasms bring about even deeper ones, and we can only sit at the gate and beg for mercy.

In all things, where we end up depends on where we have been heading. Chasms are crossed or created according what we grow within us and what we promote with those around us. If you cultivate peace, you find peace and share it without thinking much about it. If you harbour resentment, you find resentment and share it without thinking much about it. What we seek, desire, look for, and work for, we find in one way or another.

The story that Jesus relates in the Gospel – the Good News – is a poignant reminder of our capacity for good or ill. There are and shall be consequences. It’s best to be attentive, both in hearing the Gospel when it is read and in letting those words penetrate the gate of our conscience.

We may even find that our lives are transformed in ways that only Lazarus could fully appreciate.