MARCH 2020 RECOLLECTION: The Poor Lazarus and the Foolish Rich
Translated by Fray Hubert Dunstan Decena, OAR
One of the very impressive parables in the Gospel of St. Luke in that of the poor Lazarus and the “cruel” rich, as St. Augustine calls him (s. 299E,5 =s. Guelf, 30,5)). While this latter held a splendid banquet every day, the poor Lazarus, filled with sores, lay dying with hunger at the door of his house. Something similar, unfortunately, happens in our contemporary world. Side by side with the luxury and the uncontrolled squandering of a few, many others are dying of hunger. For this reason, this month, with the Gospel Parable just mentioned, we shall reflect on the drama of hunger in our world.
Enter into yourself.
Let us now dispose our heart to live this day of recollection. Let the Holy Spirit fill us with love, and raise us up to encounter God in the heavenly Jerusalem.
Let your Gift inflame us and by him let us be raised on high: inflamed we walk; we go up the ascensions disposed in our heart and we sing the Songs of Ascent. With your flame, yes; with your good flame we are ablaze as we walk, because we walk upwards, towards the peace of Jerusalem (conf. 13,10).
Your voice is my joy.
With heart well disposed, with serenity, I read slowly the following words of the Gospel according to St. Luke, savoring them and allowing myself to be touched by them.
19 There was a rich man who dressed in purple garment and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. 20 And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus covered with sores, 21 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. 22 When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 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.’ 25 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, whereas you are tormented. 26 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.” 27 He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 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.’”
The Firmament of the Scriptures.
In chapter 16 of St. Luke, we find different teaching of Jesus on the administration of material goods and the use of money. As we can see in verse 14, the text seems to be directed especially to lovers of money, represented by the Pharisees, and ends up with the narrative of the rich man and the poor Lazarus.
It is within this context that we are to read this narrative, which is proposed as the center of our reflection in this monthly recollection.
Two names appear in our text: Abraham and Lazarus. Various authors think that a reference is made to the servant of Abraham who would have inherited the possessions of the Patriarch if he did not have offspring (Gen 15:2). In reality Lazarus is the Latin form of the Hebrew name El-eazer, which means “God is my help.”
The rich man puts all his hope in his riches while the poor trusts in God. The rich in this life has enjoyed of his material possessions, while the poor only had privations. In the end, the poor man has been brought to Abraham’s bosom, while the rich man was buried and was found among the dead in the midst of torments (vv. 22-23).
The readers of Luke’s Gospel already know the message of the Good News, that had at its center and point of departure the resurrection of Jesus; he has already risen. Consequently, for those who obstinately put their trust in riches, it can happen that the resurrection of Jesus, already a fact, does not move them to change. The rich will continue to be insensitive to the needs and the cries of the poor and the indigent who continue begging for the scraps that fall from the tables of the powerful and the wealthy. In the other life things will be reversed because “those who now hunger shall be satisfied (…) the rich now have their comfort” (Lk 6:21. 24).
The disciple and follower of Christ should share his riches with the poor, because we are no more than administrators of goods entrusted to us. This is the meaning of evangelical poverty.
St. Augustine, when commenting on the text of the “cruel” rich and the poor Lazarus, shows that the parable does not extol poverty as such, nor does it condemn wealth, but rather condemns one who lives attached to riches, to the point that he becomes an impious, forgetful of God. And in the poor Lazarus, poverty is not understood as privation of everything, but his piety, his trust in God that is implicitly mirrored in his own name, which means “God is my help.”
Wealth is not condemned in the person of the rich nor is poverty praised in the person of the poor; in the first, what is condemned is his impiety, in the second piety is praised (s. 299E,3 = s. Guelf 30,3).
To reiterate this idea, St. Augustine underlines that the phrase of the Gospel: “You have received good things during your life” (Lk. 16:25) means that the rich man placed his whole heart in the lesser goods of the earth, and that these material goods brought him to forget the superior goods, that are those of the kingdom of heaven. By this the Saint once more underlines that the riches of this earth are in themselves not evil, but they can be a danger when one forgets to aspire for the goods of God.
“You have received, he said, good things in your life.” What does “good things” mean? That the other things you did not consider good. What does “in your life” mean? That you did not believe there could be another. Your goods, then, not those of God; in your life, not in the life of Christ. You received good things in your life. That in which you believed is now finished, and consequently, you did not receive the better things, since, when you possessed the inferior things, you did not want to believe in those (s. 299E,3 = s. Guelf. 30,3).
St. Augustine, likewise, points out that the human being owns nothing, but that he is only an administrator (vilicus) of everything that God has put in his hands, thus he ought to share his riches with others:
In fact, we are all administrators (vilici); to all of us in this life has been entrusted something that we have, of which we will have to render an account to the great pater-familias (s. 359A,11).
Finally, for St. Augustine the parable is no other than an invitation to mercy, to take advantage of the present time to do good works, because, as the text of the Apostle James indicates, there will be a merciless judgment for those who did not show mercy (Jm. 2:13). The exhortation would be to help the many “Lazarus” whom we can encounter along our path, to obtain mercy when we ourselves arrive in the presence of God:
When the help of that minimal mercy (a drop of water) was denied to the rich man, it was to accomplish what is written: “The judgment will be merciless to someone who did not show mercy” (Jm. 2:13) (s. 299E,4 = Guelf. 30,4).
The cry of the poor.
Hunger is an unacceptable disgrace in our world that affects millions of persons. In 2005 the UN reported that in the world there were 945 million persons who suffered hunger or malnutrition. From 2006 the number went down until 2014, when there were 783 million persons suffering from hunger and malnutrition. From 2015 the number of persons who suffer hunger increased. The last report of the UN, of the year 2019, says that today they are 821 million. These numerical data make us see all too clearly that hunger is a grave problem that many brothers suffer, and that there are epochs when the problem recrudesces, as is the epoch in which we live. The greatest drama is that 50 million children under 5 years suffer acute malnutrition.
The countries suffering most from malnutrition are South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen. The continent that suffers most from hunger is Africa, where 20% of the population suffer it. Asia follows with 11% of its population and then Latin America with 6.5% of its population suffering hunger.
What are the principal causes of hunger? Among them are the natural disasters, climate change that provoke drought and unexpected floods that destroy the crops, the instability of political governments that take no preventive measures in times of scarcity of food, poverty, the lack of agricultural infrastructures, over exploitation of the environment, unjust commercial politics and armed conflicts. This last is one of the most important and hateful causes, because it provokes a domino effect: over and above the horrors of war, those who depend on agriculture for their subsistence cannot cultivate the land, inflation is triggered, and the price of food rises disproportionately, water system and sanitation are affected, provoking epidemics, delivery of humanitarian aid is made difficult, many persons are obliged to migrate to regions other than their own country or to other countries, and many other consequences.
The UNICEF is an International Organization dedicated to taking care of malnourished children. The work it accomplishes if very valuable yet insufficient. One of the thousands of cases it gave attention to was that of Amira Ousman, a 9month-old baby in South Sudan. Here is the testimony of the Organization:
She had serious malnutrition. She was at the brink of death because her parents could not nourish her well. When she arrived at our center, she was very weak: she could not stand erect, as majority of the babies her age could do, she spoke little. Eight weeks afterwards, treating her with basic therapeutic nutrition and much love, Amira seems another person: she gained weight one kilo and a half, she stands without help, and even walks some steps, she is interested in daily activities and smiles a lot. She now eats well and, therefore, feels well (UNICEF, October 15, 2019).
The World State of Infancy (WSI), a branch of the UNICEF, distinguishes between children under 5 years of age, those who suffer chronic malnutrition and those who suffer serious malnutrition. This Organization reports that 149 million of children in the world suffer from chronic malnutrition, manifested in their retarded growth, and 50 million suffer from acute malnutrition with the consequent pathological weight loss. The pandemic is completely a social problem because it is calculated that 3.1 million children die every year for causes related to malnutrition, which means that 45% of the children die every year. Furthermore, the malnourished children below 5 years who luckily do not die, nevertheless are affected in their physical and intellectual development and their state of health for life. These children will be fragile adults resulting in difficulty to help out the family, perpetuating the vicious circle of hunger and poverty.
The Catholic Church is committed to this evil of humanity. Many priests, religious, and laity attend to the poor with dispensaries, food banks, in the apostolate of feeding children, with infrastructure work for drinking water and agriculture and many other initiatives.
In the Augustinian-Recollect Family (ministries in local, Provincial, and Order levels), we are made aware and we cooperate to diminish the disgrace of hunger and malnutrition. ARCORES is our international network that, among other aids, concentrates on the problem of hunger. Since 2017 resources had been sent to alleviate the hunger in Venezuela. With the program “United with Venezuela” thousands of Venezuelans with problems of malnutrition and hunger are supplied through community kitchens and feeding centers. It is a light of hope in behalf of the needy that revitalizes us as family.
Your commitment, your response.
– The foolish rich was living in abundance and his personal happiness deprived him of seeing the needs of others. Up to what point does your personal happiness and egoism prevent you from seeing the “Lazarus” in your community and in the surrounding where you live?
– For the foolish rich, it would not have cost much to help Lazarus, since he had abundant wealth, nevertheless, it never occurred to him, he did not give it importance, or simply he did not see the poor man. How can you help without much effort the “Lazarus” in your community and those around you?
– The foolish rich gave nothing to Lazarus during his life, but after death he wanted him to serve him, bringing him a drop of water, or sending him to earth as messenger to his brothers. In community life, are you among those who know only to ask, but not give? Have you seriously entered into the “chain for good”, of being generous in giving, but humble in receiving? – The foolish rich had sumptuous banquets every day and was clothed in fine linen. What testimony do you give of austerity, as opposed to the consumerism, materialism and hedonism of our days?