I begin with this story as we celebrate the International Day of Migrants and refugees. there is a story of rich woman who helped a homeless migrant with swollen legs. She approached him and asked: “where are you going?”
Saint Peter’s Basilica. But your legs cannot allow you to walk there. She offered a taxi to bring him. When the taxi driver stopped, he hesitated to accept the passenger, because he smelled very bad. After a few minutes, the driver agreed, and the migrant and the lady got in and had a long conversation on the way to the Vatican.
They spoke about his history, what he has lived through, the trials of being a refugee from Syria, losing his entire family, etc. By the end of the ride, the lady went to pay, and the driver, who initially hesitated to accept them, said: “No, Signora [Madam] It is I who must pay for you, because you made me listen to a story that changed my heart and perspective on life.” Thank you for choosing “to see!”
Whenever we wake up, life gives us ample opportunities to see the world around. What do we choose to see? Why? How many missed opportunities of life-transforming encounters when we decide to ignore some people.
As we look to our Gospel this Sunday, what evil had the rich man done? There is no indication that he stole or ill-treated his servants. And why does Lazarus end up in heaven? We are not told that he was humble or good mannered or that he prayed a lot. And why is Abraham so cruel as to deny the rich man a drop of water? What is the lesson for us?
First, remember Jesus is addressing the Pharisees. They have refused to acknowledge the power of God in Jesus. So even if God were to send other prophets, they will still not believe!
Second: for Jesus, the existence of two classes, the rich and the poor, is against the plan of his Father. All should be able to live lives worthy of human beings. St. Ambrose says, “when you give something to the poor, you are not giving him what is yours, you are just giving back to him what is his, since the goods of this earth belong to all, not just to the rich.”
For Saint John Chrysostom, If you cannot recognize the poor at the entrance of the Church, you will not recognize Jesus in the Chalice! The rich man’s sin was his indifference to the need at his front door. He did not harm Lazarus. He just didn’t care. The rich man’s luxury so absorbed him that he did not see or decided not see—this sealed his fate. Inhospitable to Lazarus, he found himself eternally excluded from the hospitality of God.
Third: The parable is about the good we fail to do, not necessarily the sin we avoid. We often examine our conscience and say: I did not steal, I did not slander, I did not kill! I have nothing to confess. Today’s reading question is: what about the good we fail to do? Is our following of Christ focused only on avoiding sin or is it shaped by our doing good?
Is there more light, more truth, and more strength in this world and in people’s lives because we are Christian? If our spiritual life seems to be on hold, let us go beyond examining the sins we have avoided and start looking at the good we have omitted doing.
Fourth: In the end, what we choose to ignore may be a reason for our judgement or a reversal that may happen when we die. On earth, the rich man is inside, Lazarus outside; in the afterlife situation, Lazarus is inside (Abraham’s bosom), the rich man outside (Hades). Where once Lazarus had an unfulfilled longing, now the rich man has an unfulfilled longing.
Where Lazarus had been licked by dogs, the rich man is tormented in flames. If you have ever attended a funeral Mass, people praise what someone became through what he received. They are less impressed by what his material wealth left behind.
Question: What am becoming through what I have received and how does it change other people’s lives? Let us thank those who changed our lives … there are so many … We offer them to the Lord in this Mass! I am reminded of the following words of John Steinbeck: “It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try to live so that our death brings no pleasure to the world.” John Steinbeck, East of Eden.
This Gospel joins our first reading. Amos is disgusted with the festivities and orgies of those who have become rich through robbery and violence. He attacks political leaders and aristocrats of his time. He tells them that they will be drugged off their ivory couches and led off to Nineveh as slaves. We may not be political leaders, but we probably impose hardship on our families, on our wives, and children, just as those rich people imposed hardship on the poor of their country.
These readings ask us some questions that can profoundly turn our Christian life around: what are our sins of omission? Do we notice the good we fail to do? The rich man is judged not on what he did but on what he didn’t do. He lost forever his chance to doing good! Here is something to reflect on: like the rich man’s brothers in the parable, we still have our chance, as we are alive! Do not miss the opportunity! And give others a name like Jesus. Choose to see!
A sick man was very ill in a hospital and he was on oxygen and unable to speak. When his relatives visited him, one of them stood close to his bed. The sick man took a pen and wrote something on a small paper and handed it to one standing. The latter took it and immediately put it in his pocket and he continued his conversation with others. After two minutes, the sick man died. The man who had kept the paper in his pocket removed it and read it. This is what the man who died had written: “Please stop stepping on the oxygen cable, I am unable to breath. If you do not remove your leg, I may die.” Well, too late, he was dead.
From now on, remember to be an oxygen conduit to others. Give them life.
May the Lord bless you and keep you/
May the Lord help us to choose to see the needs of others and do something about it!
May the Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you/
May the Lord look upon you kindly and Give you peace! AMEN.
Fr. Marcel Uwineza, SJ
Principal (Designate) and Dean of Jesuit School of Theology
Hekima University College
September 25, 2022