Am 6, 1.4-7; Ps 146; 1 Tim 6.11 to 16; Lk 16, 19-31
Pr 9, 1-6; Ps 33; 1 Cor 10.14 to 21; Jn 6.51 to 59
Fourth Sunday after the martyrdom of St. John the Precursor
1) The beggar at the door.
The Gospel of this XXVI Sunday in Ordinary Time presents the parable of the rich bon vivant glutton and the poor Lazarus. We are called to look at the poor that is thrown at our door by famine and war, recognizing him as the Christ who saves us. Salvation appears at the door of our lives with the ragged clothes of the beggar wounded and hungry: “The real protagonist of the story is the beggar: Christ who begs for the heart of man, and the heart of man beggar of Christ” (Msgr. Luigi Giussani).
Instead of erecting walls, we are called to build bridges of charity for the poor who is the beggar par excellence: Christ the Savior.
Instead of watching the poor with annoyance, let’s welcome him with love and sharing.
To better understand the teaching of Christ, let’s have a closer look at today’s parable.
In this story, the Messiah speaks of a rich man whose selfishness prevents him to help the poor, and who, rejecting him as a brother, rejects God who is Father of both.
This rich man, of whom Jesus does not say the name, is the typical well-off person who cares only to enjoy life, without thinking neither of God and the others, nor of eternal life.
Apparently, the wealthy man in enjoying life, does nothing wrong, but is so taken by this fleeting joy that does not even realize that at the door of his house lies a poor man, who is also ill and covered in sores. Moreover, the poor man has a name, Lazarus (a name that means “God helps”. God helps us in the poor). He is tormented by a hunger that he cannot satisfied because he is outside the door and cannot even take the crumbs that fall from the table of the rich man. Only dogs have mercy of him and lick his wounds.
This first part of the scene described in the parable presents the apparent strength of wealth, which allows to savor the fleeting joys of a life that flows very quickly and does not prevent the dramatic pain of death. The second part describes what happens after the death of the two men. Lazarus is in everlasting joy and the rich man in endless pain.
It should be recognized that the words used by St. Luke are very strong. He writes them to make clear that the episode is symbolic, but this does not imply that the message it communicates can be minimized or misunderstood.
The parable of the rich glutton and the poor hungry Lazarus, in dramatic form, presents all the provisional and destructive force of misused wealth. When wealth is reduced to being just a means of personal satisfaction, it closes the hearts to the needs of our neighbor to the point of making us incapable of seeing those in need and, worse still, of erecting a wall in front of the door so as not to see the beggars and exclude them from our lives. Instead of solving it with true charity, the problem is hypocritically censored.
In short, the parable not only shows the contrast between the poor and the rich, but it highlights that the two men are neighbors, but the rich one does not or does not want to notice the poor.
Living as selfish rich men makes us blind to the poor even if he is at our door and blind to the Scripture that tells us to recognize God in the poor. The selfish rich man does not oppose God and does not oppress the poor, just does not see him. Here lies the great danger of wealth, and this is perhaps the main lesson of the parable.
2) Angelic purity and poverty.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta said that to recognize Christ in the poor we need angelic purity. If our eyes and hearts are pure in Lazarus they can recognize Jesus.
The Redeemer has “assumed” our nature as poor Lazarus: it is He who, today, lies at our door, on the threshold of our life satified with material, proud and overbearing goods. Jesus became Lazarus for us to recognize our reality of infinite beggars, nostalgic of eternity. He, the Beggar, knocks at the door of our hearts longing for a happiness true, namely pure.
To have the purity that recognizes Christ in the poor man who is content with the crumbs from our table, it is necessary -as first step- to ask for forgiveness with a contrite heart.
The second step is to “look up” to Christ, in the same way the rich man did to Lazarus sitting in heaven with Abraham, and to beg Christ to have the same fate of Lazarus, the brother who knew how to love in the midst of poverty and disease. Let’s beg for a pure heart that allows our eyes to see, close to us, Jesus, who –as Lazarus- begs our attention and our mercy.
The third step is to open the door of our heart to which Jesus, robed in our weakness, knocks to awaken us from the slumber of a superficial life, abundant of material goods.
The fourth step is to humbly recognize ourselves as poor “dogs” that -as the parable says- are cast by all, but that “notice the pain” of Lazarus-Christ and heal the wounds that save them.
Finally, to convert is to ask, humble and contrite, that someone “wet the tip of his finger to bathe our tongue” and give us communion of life. In this vital communion of love all the barriers between husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and colleagues, rich and poor, the refugees and us, are overcome.
By opening our door to our neighbor, we will be able to open it to Christ, the Emmanuel, the God who is always with us and that is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
We are all called to live this purity to recognize Christ in the poor and be beggars of the Savior, but the consecrated Virgins in the world testify that virginity is the “poverty in love” (Jacopone of Todi) that leaves all other loves behind to give itself to Christ. With a virgin heart they look to Christ as did Veronica, and become what they contemplate, just begging for His love.
Thanks to this virginal love that contemplates the Beloved, the heart of the virgin becomes the place where the face of Christ, truth icon, is printed. With the life of beggars of the Bridegroom, they testify that it is possible to happily leave everything behind because with him nothing is lost, but all is brought to fulfillment. From him comes the perfection of light that shines in the acts, in the words, in the eyes of the creatures that make our lives a song that says:
“Is to live the aim of life? Will the children of God remain with steady feet on this miserable earth? Not to live, but to die and not to diminish the cross, but to go on it and give happily what we have. Here is joy, freedom, grace and the eternal youth!” (Paul Claudel, L’Annonce faite à Marie). Their hearts are in tune with mercy and their consecrated life is a sign that each of us is called to be “the place” inhabited by God, whose powerful love forgives and recreates.
10619 Lc 16,19-21
BEDE; Our Lord had just before advised the making friends of the Mammon of unrighteousness, which the Pharisees derided. He next confirms by examples what he had set before them, saying, There was a certain rich man, &c.
CHRYS. There was, not is, because he had passed away as a fleeting shadow.
AMBROSE; But not all poverty is holy, or all riches criminal, but as luxury disgraces riches, so does holiness commend poverty.
It follows, And be was clothed in purple and fine linen.
BEDE; Purple, the color of the royal robe, is obtained from sea shells, which are scraped with a knife. Byssus is a kind of white and very fine linen.
GREG. Now if the wearing of fine and precious robes were not a fault, word of God would never have so carefully expressed this. For no one seeks costly garments except for vainglory, that he may seem more honorable than others; for no one wishes to be clothed with such, where he cannot be seen by others.
CHRYS. Ashes, dust, and earth he covered with purple, and silk; or ashes, dust, and earth bore upon them purple and silk. As his garments were, so was also his food. Therefore with us also as our food is, such let our clothing be Hence it follows, And he fared sumptuously everyday.
GREG. And here we must narrowly watch ourselves, seeing that banquets can scarcely be celebrated blamelessly, for almost always luxury accompanies feasting; and when the body is swallowed up in the delight of refreshing itself, the heart relaxes to empty joys.
It follows, And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus.
AMBROSE; This seems rather a narrative than a parable, since the name is also expressed.
CHRYS. But a parable is that in which an example is given, while the names are omitted. Lazarus is interpreted, “one who was assisted.” For he was poor, and the Lord helped him.
CYRIL; Or else; This discourse concerning the rich man and Lazarus was written after the manner of a comparison in a parable, to declare that they who abound in earthly riches, unless they will relieve the necessities of the poor, shall meet with a heavy condemnation. But the tradition of the Jews relates that there was at that time in Jerusalem a certain Lazarus who was afflicted with extreme poverty and sickness, whom our Lord remembering, introduces him into the example for the sake of adding greater point to His words.
GREG. We must observe also, that among the heathen the names of poor men are more likely to be known than of rich. Now our Lord mentions the name of the poor, but not the name of the rich, because God knows and approves the humble, but not the proud. But that the poor man might be more approved, poverty and sickness were at the same time consuming him; as it follows, who was laid at his gate full of sores.
PSEUDO-CHRYS. He lay at his gate for this reason, that the rich might not say, I never saw him, no one told me; for he saw him both going out and returning. The poor is full of sores, that so he might set forth in his own body the cruelty of the rich. You see the death of your body lying before the gate, and you pity not. If you regard not the commands of God, at least have compassion on your own state, and fear lest also you become such as he. But sickness has some comfort if it receives help. How great then was the punishment in that body, in which with such wounds he remembered not the pain of his sores, but only his hunger; for it follows, desiring to be fed with the crumbs, &c. As if he said, What you throw away from your table, afford for alms, make your losses gain.
AMBROSE; But the insolence and pride of the wealthy is manifested afterwards by the clearest tokens, for it follows, and no one gave to him. For so unmindful are they of the condition of mankind, that as if placed above nature they derive from the wretchedness of the poor an incitement to their own pleasure, they laugh at the destitute, they mock the needy, and rob those whom they ought to pity.
AUG. For the covetousness of the rich is insatiable, it neither fears God nor regards man, spares not a father, keeps not its fealty to a friend, oppresses the widow, attacks the property of a ward.
GREG. Moreover the poor man saw the rich as he went forth surrounded by flatterers, while he himself lay in sickness and want, visited by no one. For that no one came to visit him, the dogs witness, who fearlessly licked his sores, for it follows, moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
PSEUDO-CHRYS. Those sores which no man deigned to wash and dress, the beasts tenderly lick.
GREG. By one thing Almighty God displayed two judgments. He permitted Lazarus to lie before the rich man’s gate, both that the wicked rich man might increase the vengeance of his condemnation, and the poor man by his trials enhance his reward; the one saw daily him on whom he should show mercy, the other that for which he might be approved.