First reading Amos 6:1,4-7
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 145(146):7-10
Second reading 1 Timothy 6:11-16
Gospel Luke 16:19-31
Some years ago, I was in Portugal with a mate of mine. We were walking down a street in the capital city of Lisbon, and I saw a little bloke coming towards me. I could tell he was about to hit me up for some money. I tried to avoid his gaze so as not to encourage him, but he bailed me up nevertheless. I told him I didn’t have any cash, but I had a bread roll I was saving for morning tea, which I gave him. He sighed with total disappointment at the sight of this measly bread roll, but he took it and went on his way. I went on sightseeing but couldn’t stop thinking about this fellow. I felt terrible. Anyway, sure as eggs, the Lord had a plan. I ran into him again later in the day, which is unusual in a European capital. When I saw him approaching me again, I remember just wishing that he would go away. It wasn’t because he was unpleasant in any way, in fact he was quite polite and humble. It was that I didn’t like the feeling of my generosity being scrutinised and I didn’t like the look of his sad begging eyes looking into my soul. He asked me again if I could spare any money so he could buy something to eat. I sensed this was a moment of divine encounter, and I knew deep down that whatever my answer was going to be, I would be answering to Jesus himself. I asked him what he would like to eat and offered to take him anywhere he wanted. He was almost in disbelief. We went to a café of his choice, he picked what he wanted, and we sat together chatting for about half an hour. He shared his story and I shared mine. At the end, (Miguel was his name), was tearing up. He was so visibly moved by this encounter, as was I, that he insisted on giving me a gift. He had absolutely nothing except a little notebook in which he did watercolour paintings. He tore out a page and gave it to me, which I still have to this day.
I think for Miguel, this encounter was not about the food. In fact, he didn’t eat much at all. I sense that it was that he was seen. That someone finally took the time to look at him and listen to him, even if I only did so reluctantly after some significant nudging from the Lord. Dear friends, this is precisely what does not happen in our Gospel today. We heard the famous story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man feasts sumptuously every day while Lazarus lies at his gate longing for the scraps that fall from his table. Lazarus is hungry and sick, covered with sores. But even worse than that, perhaps, Lazarus is totally ignored. He lives at the rich man’s gate, meaning that the rich man had to walk past or over Lazarus every day as he came and went. Does he ever see him? He is seen only by the dogs that come and lick his sores. What I find telling is that even in the flames of hell, the rich man has still not learned his lesson. He is in agony for his lack of care about anyone else, and yet he still speaks as if Lazarus is a nobody. “Send Lazarus,” he says, “to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue…” in other words, ‘make Lazarus serve me…’ What? Is Lazarus this man’s slave? “Send Lazarus to my father’s house, since I have five brothers, to give them warning so that they do not come to this place of torment too.” Notice also that he never speaks directly to Lazarus, but addresses only Abraham. In other words, he’s still refusing to face Lazarus. Abraham, in turn, refuses the rich man’s request. He then argues with Abraham! “Ah no, Father Abraham, but if someone comes to them from the dead they will repent.” Even in hell, this man feels no remorse, he still does not see who Lazarus is but expects Lazarus to serve him, and then has the gall to argue with Abraham. The rich man, I suspect, went to hell not because he was rich, nor because he feasted or wore fine purple linen, but because he was so invincibly absorbed in himself that he never saw his neighbour. He is locked in himself for all eternity such that no punishment could convert him.
My dear brothers and sisters, the Lord says through the prophet today, “woe to those ensconced so snugly in Zion and to those who feel so safe on the mountain of Samaria” (Amos 6:1). In other words, like the rich man in our parable, ‘woe to those who are all wrapped up in themselves and their own little worlds. Woe to those who do not see their neighbour, who never take the time to slow down and attend with genuine care to those around them. May we take up the call of our Lord Jesus to be attentive and open to all whom he places in our path whether rich or poor, young or old, healthy or sick, sinner or saint. For in doing so we allow the Lord to draw us out of ourselves, in which we can become so bound up, at times, that heaven alludes us and hell welcomes us. Let us pray for the grace to see our neighbour and his or her needs, and for the generosity to be truly present, just as the Lord Jesus is about to become truly present to us in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.