Sunday Gospel Reflection for 26th Sunday of the Year September 25th Written by Fr Brian Maher OMI
If you felt that Luke, in his Gospel, seems to have a strong dislike for wealth and ‘rich men’, you would not be too far wrong! For the second week in a row Luke begins with, “…there was a rich man who…” and for the second week in a row the ‘rich man’ is presented to us in a very negative way.
Last week we had the dishonest ‘rich man’ congratulating his dishonest steward for being dishonest! This week, in the parable of Lazarus and Dives we have another ‘rich man’ who, even after death, cannot let go of his self-absorbed arrogance. Luke is utterly scathing, almost to the point of being comical, in his contrasting treatment of the life of poor Lazarus and wealthy Dives.
As we might expect the ‘rich man’, Dives, is ‘dressed in purple and fine linen’ and ‘he feasts magnificently every day’. By dressing him in ‘purple’ Luke wants us to see him as a man of power and ambition, living in luxury and treated as royalty. He has everything. He wants for nothing. Who, we might ask, would not want to be Dives?
By contrast, poor Lazarus lies at his gate, covered with sores and starving, not even getting the scraps from the rich man’s table to eat. What an image of utter misery and degradation. But just on the off chance that we are not yet sorry enough for Lazarus, Luke adds that ‘dogs even came and licked his sores.’ What a wonderful detail to complete the picture for us. If we might want to be Dives, we can be in no doubt that we would, most definitely, not want to be Lazarus.
Now look at what happens: The ‘poor man’ dies and “is carried away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham.” After being forced to live a life of squalor and filth, he is now taken to ‘Sheol’, the dwelling place of the dead, a place of silence and peace where the good await the resurrection of the dead. We associate it with Heaven but for Jesus and Luke it wasn’t quite that.
In contrast we are told that, “the rich man died and was buried.” In just three words – and was buried – we are told everything we need to know. ‘He was buried’….. gone forever, forgotten, his life unimportant and trivial. And where has he gone? Not to a place of silence and peace, but to Hades, a place of chaos and torment. We now associate it with Hell but for Jesus and Luke it was that part of Sheol where the wicked waited for the resurrection of the dead and final judgement. For both men their fates are sealed: Dives to judgement and eternal punishment, Lazarus to eternal peace and happiness in God’s Kingdom.
In the parable a conversation takes place between Dives and Abraham. Lazarus is not part of this conversation. He already has his reward and his peace will not be disturbed by the ranting of the rich man.
If we are tempted to feel in any way sorry for poor Dives, now in agony and lost, all we need do is look at what he is asking to find that even in death, when the wickedness of his life is clear to him, he has learned absolutely nothing.
He does not care about Lazarus, or understand the sufferings of his life, or see that in his own riches he might have alleviated something of Lazarus’ pain. No, even now, his focus is only on himself: “Pity ME” he cries; “Send Lazarus to ME…” he demands, “…to cool MY tongue with water, for I am in agony. Poor Dives, still lost in his own world of self-centredness and egotism!
When he learns that it is impossible for Lazarus to ease his agony, even if he wanted to (these words a hint, perhaps, that even after all he suffered, Lazarus might still want to help, if he could), he turns to saving his own family. Again, Lazarus does not matter, “…send Lazarus to MY brothers…” He has no idea that maybe Lazarus deserves his peace and rest after all he suffered in life. Let him be the messenger for ME; let him do the work; his peace and rest are of no consequence.
And this, for Luke, is precisely the problem for the rich of this world. It is so difficult to remain grounded. Wealth so easily erodes empathy and compassion, and we become lost in our own world, unable to ‘see’ the pain or need in another’s eyes and face.
Wealth itself becomes all that matters; the God of love is replaced by the God of profit and gain, and instead of life being warm and trusting and outgoing, it becomes cold and suspicious and narrow.
In the end, as Luke so wonderfully tells us, “…the rich died and was buried.” Period. Over.
Like millions of people around the world I took some time out this week to watch the funeral service of Queen Elizabeth II, and I must say I found it a hugely impressive and moving ceremony. You don’t have to be British or a monarchist in order to recognise in Queen Elizabeth true greatness, and by greatness I mean, not the swaggering conceit, arrogance and self-importance we see in so many World leaders, but a woman who dedicated her entire life to the service of her people. Duty, dedication, respect and dignity were, I think, the hallmarks of her reign and these qualities do not need crowns, jewels of lavish banquets to be recognised.
The Archbishop of Canterbuy, the most Reverend Justin Welby, in his sermon spoke about the unshakeable and deep faith of the Queen, a faith which carried her through the stresses, tragedies, and personal sadnesses of her reign. The power of Queen Elizabeth, he said, her strength, her wisdom, and her service, came from a deep, personal, acceptance that only with God by her side, could she be a true leader of her people.
I always remember that image of Queen Elizabeth sitting alone and isolated (because of Covid) at the funeral of her husband, Prince Philip, in Windsor Castle. She looked so sad, so frail and so alone, and after seventy three years of marriage she was all of these things and more. Yet always, I think, she maintained a calm and deep inner peace which can only come from knowing and trusting that God was with her.
Perhaps the life and death of Queen Elizabeth shows us that the warnings of today’s Gospel can be heeded and overcome. Difficult though it might be, wealth need not exclude empathy and compassion; the power that wealth brings can be exercised with dignity and respect, and true leadership can be seen in service and humility.
The best and happiest images of Queen Elizabeth are not the pomp and ceremony of coronations and the State Visits of world leaders. No! We see her at her happiest with a scarf on her head, behind the wheel of a battered Range Rover, or roaming the hills around Balmoral, or walking her beloved corgis in the gardens of Windsor. Even those who question or disapprove of Monarchy recognised something great in Queen Elizabeth, something that was real, and human and dignified, something that could be respected.
In the Gospel the epitaph on the rich man’s grave reads, “This man was born, died, and was buried.” The same will never be said of Queen Elizabeth. May she rest in Peace.
|Gospel Sunday September 25th 2022||Luke 16:19-31|
Dives and Lazarus
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