Thursday, February 25, 2016

“The ends you serve that are selfish will take you no further than yourself but the ends you serve that are for all, in common, will take you into eternity.”

Gospel Text: (LK 16:19-31)
Jesus said to the Pharisees:
“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen
and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps
that fell from the rich man’s table.
Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
When the poor man died,
he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
The rich man also died and was buried,
and from the netherworld, where he was in torment,
he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off
and Lazarus at his side.
And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me.
Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,
for I am suffering torment in these flames.’
Abraham replied, ‘My child,
remember that you received what was good during your lifetime
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing
who might wish to go from our side to yours
or from your side to ours.’
He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him
to my father’s house,
for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them,
lest they too come to this place of torment.’
But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets.
Let them listen to them.’
He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham,
but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
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.’”

Is this parable credible today in our contemporary situations locally and globally? Can we recognize real situations in the imagined one?

Most certainly we can recognize it at the international level, where the poor ─persons and countries─ are starving and all too many of them confined in refugee camps, while the rich and powerful pay only as much attention to it as it serves their political or financial interest. Pope Francis has convincingly called attention to this inequality in his encyclical Laudato Si’, but prophetic voices find it hard to penetrate the bastions of those on the affluent side of the inequality, perhaps a case of social “affluenza”(see P.S. below). Institutional global approaches continue to fail the poor, because both physically and socially they have no voice that can be listened to. So yes, Jesus’ parable is credible today at the international level.

But we can also recognize the parable at the national and local level. Our country is number two in the world in social inequality. Locally we need only to go to any of the various homeless shelters to see what is actually only the tip of the iceberg. Large sectors of our population live at or below the poverty level and they are in many ways ignored, while the rich and powerful ─“the beautiful people” ─ are glamorized. Jesus’ parable is surely credible today at our national and local level.

So Jesus presents us with a faith critique of our reality. Both Lazarus and the rich man die, for wealth has no say there. And now, deprived of the affirmation of peers and cronies, the rich man begins to see the light. The scene is reminiscent of despotic Sadam Hussein asking for leniency at his trial. We may have thought that perhaps in his loftiness the rich man was not even aware of the presence of that poor man at his door or at his estate’s gate, but he does recognize the beggar and he even knows his name: Lazarus. It was not a matter of his not being aware of the beggar’s presence and needs.

P.S. for readers outside the U.S.A. “affluenza” was the excuse presented for leniency in sentencing by a rich young man, who driving drunk had killed four people. He claimed that in his affluent environment he had not been taught to face the consequences of his actions.

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