Reflection on the Gospel-26th Sunday in Ordinary Time C (Luke 16:19-31) -Veronica Lawson RSM
Global inequality of income and of opportunity has increased dramatically in the past few years. The gospel reading invites us to look, collectively and individually, at the wealth we enjoy, to sharpen our awareness of the needs of those who seek to share the bounty we claim for ourselves, to notice those who wait for justice at our gates and seek a part in the life we enjoy. Above all, it invites us to respond to the needs of those rendered poor by virtue of their physical limitations or disabilities. Such an inclusive embrace is the vision we espouse as we move towards the fourth week of the Season of Creation.
The gospel parable presents a nasty mega rich character using his wealth to support a totally self-centred life-style. He dresses in the finest clothes and feasts extravagantly every day. He has no concern for, or interest in, the destitute and badly wounded man, Lazarus, who has been cast at his gate and who longs for a share in whatever falls (‘scraps’ in our translation) from the rich man’s table. The reference here is probably to the pita bread commonly used by diners at banquets to wipe their hands. The bread would be discarded after use and snapped up by the dogs. There is a reasonable chance that, even if the servants fail to offer Lazarus the leftovers, the dogs might share with him their daily fare. Begging for food was often the sole means of sustenance for those with disabilities. Lazarus has a serious disability: he is “sorely wounded”; he is “cast” at the gate and has no capacity to prevent the dogs from licking his sores.
Lazarus dies and is transported by angels into the arms of Israel’s iconic ancestor, Abraham. In contrast, the rich man dies and suffers the torment of Hades. There is no mention of angels to transport him to the place of his ancestors. The rich man’s suffering is exacerbated by the vision of the man whose needs he ignored in life now “a long way off” in Abraham’s embrace. Earlier in Luke’s story, Jesus has declared the bent-over woman to be a daughter of Abraham. Later, he will call the toll-collector Zacchaeus a “son of Abraham”. To be “of Abraham” is to be true to the tradition inaugurated by Israel’s ancestor in faith. It is to “hear” Moses and the prophets and their call to justice and right relationship.
Riches belong, not to the few, but to the whole Earth community. If they are all-consuming, they destroy our capacity to see or hear what really matters. All the honour and status they might bring are quite worthless in the final analysis. The rich man of the Lukan parable came to this realisation too late. An occasional walk in the woods or period of digital detox might provide us with time to reflect and to find ways to restore the balance required for the health of all on our planet.