The past two weeks the Gospel message was presented by the use of parables. The first was the Prodigal Son followed by the story of the embezzling manager of the rich master. Today’s teaching is also in the form of a parable, staring the poor beggar Lazarus. Not the same Lazarus who was the brother of Martha and Mary and friend of Jesus, but rather a fictional character.
The parable describes an unknown rich man, wealthy and having little care of any of his fellow man. As rich as he was, there was no need for a God, and especially a pathetic soul like Lazarus. The rich man thought he had all he needed, for he was a man who was, “… dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dines splendidly each day.” Lying at his door each day, Lazarus was ignored by the rich man going about his business.
How could the rich man constantly ignore the plight of Lazarus after daily exposure to him? Clearly, the parable is a story about how a person can be completely selfish. All that mattered to the rich man was his own comfort, and what was going on in his own life. The rich man was indeed a totally self-absorbed individual.
Now, all of us have some inkling of what it means to be selfish. The root of all sin, those we have committed, or will commit, is based on acting on our own selfish inclinations. This might have been the case early on when the rich man was younger, however, after a life of indulging sinful inclinations evolved from periodic failures to an inner disposition. The rich man was an embodiment of selfishness. The rich man’s inner disposition, with all of his actions, thoughts and deeds were directed to one thing— himself. Although he was rich, he did not share his good fortune; although he may have been talented, he squandered it under his own consuming need to satisfy himself; although he had the time, he could not find it in his heart to give any to his fellow brothers and sisters. As with everyone, the rich man died and was buried.
Death was not the end for this man because from the netherworld he was eternally tormented. During his time in hell, the rich man noticed in the distance his father Abraham with Lazarus at his side. He shouted to Abraham to have Lazarus dip his finger in water to cool his burning tongue. Talk about still being self-serving. He still thinks Lazarus who has found his peace should be his servant, after all, he was nothing more than a beggar. Even in his torment, the rich man still hasn’t learned his lessons. Abraham rebukes the rich man by recalling how many gifts he received while alive.
The conclusion of the parable suggests a change in the rich man’s attitude. He then begs Abraham to warn his brothers who are still living and apparently as selfish as he was to save them from the hell he is now living. “Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”
Although the rich man is obviously suffering in his next life, little has been spoken about his suffering he endured while on earth without even knowing it. His earthly torment was caused by his isolation and all the truly good things he missed, if only he could be open to the gift of other people. His only friend was his wealth. What an isolating and lonely thought. As Charles Dickens once noticed of these types, the chains of eternal confinement are forged while on earth.
Take notice, the parable mentions four individuals in the story and only gives names to three of them. The parable mentions by name, Lazarus, Abraham and Moses. The rich man has no name. To be named is be alive; to be named is to be a person; to be named means that you are someone special and unique. Everyone in this parable is special and unique, all except the rich man who seems to be only shell of a person, for he is not special enough to be named.
The rich man had all the possessions he could consume in a life, but he did not have the most important thing: His personhood. To be authentically human a person needs to be in relation with others. And those relationships are based upon the healthy interaction of giving and taking. The proper proportion of giving and taking is actually what defines us as persons. The rich man however, had absolutely no conception of what a person should be. He sold away his personhood for a few trinkets that always decay and become worthless. The rich man’s torment began long before he died, because he never realized charity is foundation of the Kingdom of God and parts of it are present in the world today.
Now that he has died, it is far too late for the rich man to share in fullness of the Kingdom of God. He unfortunately squandered many occasions and opportunities that were around him daily. There was no charity in his heart and those like him cannot enter the eternal Kingdom of charity (love) without it.
For those who practice charity during earthly life have heard the words of Moses and the prophets and are convinced of the one who rose from the dead. And the one who rose from the dead has a name, Jesus Christ. We who follow him also have names, and all those persons with names will someday rest in peace in the bosom of Abraham forever.