Gospel: Luke 16:19-31
Jesus said to the Pharisees:
“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen
and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
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.
When the poor man died,
he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
The rich man also died and was buried,
and from the netherworld, where he was in torment,
he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off
and Lazarus at his side.
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.’
‘My child, remember that you received
what was good during your lifetime
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
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.’
He said, ‘Then I beg you, father,
send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers,
so that he may warn them,
lest they too come to this place of torment.’
But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets.
Let them listen to them.’
He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham,
but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
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.’”
Driving to work Friday, I took the 4th Street exit off of the freeway, just as I do most every morning. On the left hand side of the off ramp was a man holding a tattered piece of cardboard with a single word written on it; “Hungry”. Continuing along Bryant Street, just past the Shell station, there was another homeless man. He looked tired and was moving slowly, as if he had just woken up. His meager belongings tucked in the corner of a doorway. I turned left onto Third Street and just before reaching Harrison, traffic stopped me under the overpass. To my left, there were men sleeping alongside the wall of a building. One man used his shoes for a pillow. There are planters along that building and these homeless men were lying between them. The planters are there to add beauty to this otherwise dreary and shadow covered space. Continuing up Third Street and approaching Market, I saw tradesmen unloading sheetrock from their truck. Their path was blocked by a man, wearing no shoes and holding his hand out to passersby, begging for change. The workers yelled for him to get out of the way. Their language was ugly and hurtful. Crossing Market Street and preceding up Kearny, along both sides of the street, the doorways were full of men and women lying on the cold, filthy ground. Most of them were lying on sheets of cardboard. Some were wrapped in sleeping bags. Others were lying under worn and tattered blankets. Some had nothing at all to cover themselves. All of them were dirty, alone, hungry, and forgotten. As I stared at them, my view was constantly interrupted by people walking by, presumably on their way to work. These pedestrians had simply grown immune to the presence and suffering of the homeless. I saw visitors to the city with their name badges hanging from their necks making their way to Moscone Center for a conference. They clutched their briefcases and purses as they walked past the occupied doorways. They carried looks of fear on their faces as they stared at the homeless and stepped away from the buildings and directly into the paths of oncoming pedestrians. Stopping at a red light at Pine Street, I saw the familiar face of a homeless man who was sitting on the ground against a building, and rocking back and forth, mumbling to himself. His hand was out. He stopped muttering only to ask for spare change. He was probably in his late twenties or early thirties but his worn face and ragged appearance made him look much older. After I parked my car I walked to the office and saw an older woman, sitting on the corner of California and Kearny. She too was holding a sign. Hers read, “A little kindness please.” I see this every day.
In today’s gospel, we hear Jesus address the Pharisees with a parable. The Pharisees were the keepers of God’s law. They were distinguished by their strict adherence to the Jewish tradition. Jesus’ parable begins with two men. A rich man who remains nameless and Lazarus. The rich man is portrayed as living a lavish lifestyle. We are given an image of a man luxuriating in wealth and comfort. We are also given a painful and unsightly description of Lazarus; hungry and covered with sores. Lazarus lies in the doorway of the rich man’s house. They both die and it is Lazarus who is taken to heaven where he is nursed and cared for while the rich man lies in torment surrounded by the flames of the netherworld.
What do the rich man in the gospel, all of the folks who walked by the homeless downtown, and me all have in common? We are guilty of looking past the humanity of the homeless and impoverished. We have somehow come to a point where we are no longer shocked by the appearance of another human being lying on the ground hungry and suffering, alone and forgotten. We have been anesthetized from the pain that ravages others.
In today’s gospel, the rich man presumably ignored Lazarus while they were both living. Looking up to heaven, the rich man does not call to Lazarus directly but rather to Abraham. The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus down to ease the suffering of the rich man. Lazarus is to be sent; like a servant. The rich man never speaks to Lazarus directly even as Lazarus is carried away by angels and held at the bosom of Abraham; exalted. The rich man never sees Lazarus as an equal; as someone worthy enough to be acknowledged.
Today, Jesus is speaking to all of us. Today, We are the keepers of God’s law. We are distinguished by the strict adherence of Christian values. Namely, to love one another as God loves us. We are challenged to respond with love to the humanity of those who are suffering. Ignoring them carries with it a price that which none of us want to be saddled; living with the torment and anguish that come when we find ourselves living with the absence of God. For that is the definition of hell.
Every day we are given an opportunity to be Christ-like. There is no doubt in my mind that if Jesus found himself walking along Kearny Street on any given morning, he would not rest until he alleviated the suffering of the homeless. Today, as a church, as a community of believers, We make up the body of Jesus here on earth. We have the power to bring about healing and comfort. It doesn’t take a miracle. It takes only having an awareness that folks need our help and that we can and ought to provide that help. How? If we bring a lunch to work, maybe we prepare a little extra food and hand it to someone who is hungry. Maybe we buy a second cup of coffee and offer it to someone who is cold and thirsty. If we pick up lunch or a snack, maybe we buy a little extra to give to a homeless person. It’s going to be getting colder soon. Maybe we clean out our closets and round up coats, sweaters, and blankets to give to those who need it the most. Perhaps we can reach out to Catholic Charities to see where they need an extra pair of helping hands. The point is to embrace the humanity of those in need and then act accordingly.
The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers so that they may avoid the torment that the rich man is experiencing. Abraham says, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”
Our Eucharistic celebration today commemorates the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. His rising from the dead made it possible for Christ to take up shelter in each one of us here. Our job is to take his presence beyond the confines of this building and give life to the love he holds for us all.