NOT IGNORING THOSE WHO SUFFER
The contrast between the two protagonists in the parable is tragic. The rich man dresses in purple garments and fine linen. His whole life is one of luxury and ostentation. He only thinks about dining sumptuously each day. This rich man has no name since he has no identity. He is a no body. His life, empty of compassion, is a failure. One cannot live to dine sumptuously only.
Lying at the gate of his mansion is a hungry beggar, covered with sores. No one helps him. Only dogs approach to him to lick his wounds. He possesses nothing, but he has a name that brings hope. His name is Lazarus or Eleazar, which means “God is my help.”
Each person’s destiny changes radically at death. The rich man is buried, surely with great solemnity, but is carried away to Hades or “the realm of the dead.” Lazarus dies too. There is no mention of any funeral ritual, but he was carried away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. Using popular images of that time, Jesus issues the reminder that God has the last word about the rich and the poor.
The rich man is not condemned for exploiting the poor. There is no mention of him being an ungodly person, distant from the Covenant. He simply has enjoyed his wealth, ignoring the poor. He has the poor man right there, but he has not seen him. The poor man is at the gate of his mansion, but he has not approached him. He has excluded the poor man from his life. The rich man’s sin is indifference.
According to observers, apathy or a lack of sensibility in the face of other people’s suffering is growing in our society. We avoid, in thousands of ways, direct contact with people who suffer. Slowly, we become increasingly incapable of noticing their affliction.
We find bothersome the presence of a child begging where we pass. A visit with a terminally ill friend disturbs us. We do not know what to do or say. It is better to stay away, to return to what keeps us occupied, not to let ourselves be affected.
It is easier for us if the suffering occurs far away. We have learned to reduce hunger, misery or sickness to data, numbers, statistics that inform us of the reality without in the least touching our hearts. We also know how to look at horrible suffering on television. But suffering, through the screen, is always unreal and less terrible. When suffering affects someone closer to us, we labor to anesthetize our hearts in thousands of ways.
Those who follow Jesus become more sensitive to the suffering of those they meet on the way. They approach those in need and, if it is within their capability, they try to alleviate their situation.
September 25, 2016
26th Sunday in O.T. (C)
Luke 16, 19-31