Once upon a time, God is sitting in Heaven when a scientist says to Him, “Lord, we don’t need you anymore. Science has finally figured out a way to create life out of nothing. In other words, we can now do what you did in the ‘beginning’.” “Oh, is that so? Tell me…” replies God. “Well,” says the scientist, “we can take dirt and form it into the likeness of You and breathe life into it, thus creating human beings.” “Well, that’s interesting! Show Me!” So the scientist bends down to the earth and starts to mold the soil. “Oh, no, no, no…” interrupts God. “Get your own dirt.”
We’ve got dirt on the rich man in the parable today. And, we might be tempted to think that today’s parable is about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. The rich go to hell and the poor go to heaven. But that is not the message St. Luke gives us today.
What is the sin of the rich man? That he dressed in purple garments and fine linen, a sign of royalty and wealth? That he dined sumptuously each day? The rich man failed to recognize the poor person at his doorstep. It would be as if I sat in an expensive restaurant window on Michigan Avenue dining on caviar and Dom Perignon only to have a homeless person stand and stare at me through the clear glass windowpane. Not to recognize the poverty and the pain of our brothers and sisters is the sin of the rich.
Hence, the prophet Amos condemns the complacent rich. Woe to those who dine sumptuously laying on their ivory couches listening to beautiful music while their poor neighbors lay on the ground picking up garbage scraps.
Today’s Gospel contains the only name of a character in a parable. The poor person’s name is Lazarus. It means “blessed of God.” And every single one of us has a Lazarus in our lives. Every one of us has someone else whom we consider below us. We probably consider that person to be pathetic and tragic and we go out of our way to avoid them. Sometimes we step over them. Many times we gossip about them and we complain about them. But, in reality, God has sent this person to us so that (in the words of St. Paul) we can lay hold of eternal life. God sends us Lazarus to keep us honest. God sends us Lazarus to make us virtuous. God sends us Lazarus so that we can run after love, patience and gentleness.
Here at this Eucharist God calls us all to the altar to be refreshed in Spirit. You and I along with our Lazarus will receive communion at the hands of the Lord who died for us. When we die, God will not ask us, “How much did you own?” God will ask, “How much did you care?” If we want to make sure that God does not have dirt on us when we die, we ought to embrace Lazarus- Blessed of God- while we have the chance!
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.