My life is one of far greater riches than the rich man in today’s parable. Space-age wool, cotton, and polyester blends compose the clothes that I throw on every morning and the food I eat throughout the day is more abundant, nourishing, fresh, and appetizing than even the most sumptuous of meals that the un-identified “Dives” [“rich-man”] would have enjoyed. So how do I avoid his fate? A few take-aways immediately strike the attentive reader.
For one, the obvious connotation: Dives now finds himself in anguish because he ignored the impoverished and ill Lazarus who lived literally under his very gate, and yet received neither attention, food, nor even the smallest gesture of love from him. Christ’s words in the prior chapter of Luke that we heard last weekend should resonate again in our hearts: “you cannot serve God and mammon”. “Son”, Abraham speaks to all of us, “remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” Is my “lifetime”, a word that not only speaks of physical length of days, but of the fullness of our lives, including and extending into eternity, comprised merely of the “good things” of this world? How often is my mood, disposition, and happiness dependent on merely earthly possessions and pleasures?
A couple weeks ago I bought one of those electrolyte-additive mixes that you drink after a hard workout, choosing “orange” because I thought it would be the best flavor. Well, it’s terrible, and every time I try to drink the stuff, I think I should just toss it and try “cherry pomegranate” or “lemon” instead… Not after this Gospel! Lazarus did not have food at all. He did not even get the scraps and refuse that our rich man threw out, much less food that was palatable or nutritious. In eternity, am I going to be still be looking for a quick drink for myself (as long as it’s not orange-flavored) or will my mind and heart be set on more important things? I make that decision now in the simple choice to not complain when my preference is not given to me, as well as in those greater acts of charity when I offer kindness, concern, and dignity to someone in need of it who crosses my path.
A second call resonates beyond this first one though, and it comes at the end of our Gospel today.
And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment. But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’ ”
Our rich man shows concern for his brothers; he is not just a cold-hearted, wealthy, tyrant or something. What does this mean for us?: Kindness is not enough. Love of neighbor is not the extent of Christ’s call, but only when it flows from, and is linked with Love of God! Our life must not merely be not serving mammon, but a conscious and constant choice to serve God! How might we do this? I think our Gospel today offers us a simple way: fill our minds and hearts with God’s Word. Abraham’s final message to our rich-man is that he (and his brothers) did not hear Moses and the Prophets, and so, they would also be ambivalent towards even the astonishing revelation in Christ’s resurrection. Is my mind filled by the entertainment, distractions, and noise of our world? What happens when my phone dies or an ad rudely interrupts my YouTube watching? What is the first thing I read in the morning, or the last thing I hear or see before I fall asleep?
While running this past week, the Bluetooth earbuds I was listening to an audiobook with ran out of power. I had a couple miles to go on a long run, and it was annoying to not have the distraction of constant sound pumped into my head, but I was forced to go without them and ended up praying two decades of the rosary and greeting a couple people with a smile and wave as I trotted the last bit back to the rectory. It was a moment of insight: are the words that fill my mind and heart those of God, or a barrage of distraction that keep me far from appreciating His gifts and presence? Not only must we set aside time for silence in order to even notice God’s work in our lives, but we also have to spend time to meditate on His Word – Moses, the Prophets, the Gospels – and let them percolate in our hearts, penetrate our minds, and polish the lenses through which we see our world.
Father Dominic Rankin is a Parochial Vicar for the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.