Isn’t today’s gospel (Luke 16 19-31) frightening? The description of the afterlife is quite comfortable for Lazarus, but it is horrible for the other one, the rich person. We may not be among the very rich, but nevertheless we may fear that we might endure the same fate as the rich person in the gospel. Fear… - fear never brings freedom. Fear does not really incite us to change our lives.
Did Jesus really want to inspire fear by talking about the otherworldly reward or the otherworldly punishment? Was talking about the afterlife his objective? I do not think so: Jesus has the human being in mind, not a theory about the afterlife.
The first who comes to our mind is Lazarus. He has a name. The name means “God helps”. His everyday life is ruled by illness and need and misery and hunger. He cannot even reach the “the scraps that fell from the rich man's table”.
The rich person has no name. He does not even act in a malicious manner – he just does not notice Lazarus and his needs. The rich man is focused on his comfortable life. He has no eye and no ear to what happens around him. He has no eye and no ear for the human beings in his neighborhood.
And this is the point where Jesus starts his story: Lazarus has a name: “God helps”, and God is concerned with Lazarus. With Lazarus who lies in front of the door, whose body is covered with sores, and who has less value than a dog. God is concerned with exactly this Lazarus, this “underdog”.
And this is the message of today’s gospel for me: Do see Lazarus! Do see him in spite of all our activities and business! Do see him in spite of all our prejudices, in spite of all our limitations! Our limitations show us that we cannot help every person who needs our help. But let us see them and not forget them in spite of our festivities and parties – festivities and parties are OK, they are not bad. Let us see the needs of others in spite of our love of life, our lust for life.
Let us become attentive – other persons need our attentiveness; maybe we ourselves need their attentiveness for ourselves, and we need to be attentive to our own needs. As Christians we have the possibility and invitation to be open for changes, we have the possibility to practice a helping community. A helping community believes that our attentiveness gives change a chance. Then we do experience God as the one who sees us with loving attentiveness just like he sees Lazarus.
Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ