The Rich Man and Lazarus

Yesterday’s Gospel was Jesus’ parable to the Pharisees of the rich man and Lazarus.

This is one of those tales we’ve all heard countless times: during their lifetimes, Lazarus lies suffering at the door of the rich man. The rich man does nothing to alleviate Lazarus’ suffering, but spends his time enjoying all of the fruits of their riches. When they die, Lazarus is carried away to heaven and the rich man is in torment in hell. The rich man cries out to Abraham to “send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony.” Abraham refuese, as he refuses the rich man’s subsequent plea to send Lazarus to warn his brothers so they don’t end up like him.

I confess that there are times I hear this passage when I think, well why not? If the rich man is sorry for the life he has led, why not send Lazarus to him or his brothers?

In his sermon on the Gospel, Fr. Bill Walsh made what in retrospect seems an obvious point, but one that had escaped me in all of the times I have read or heard proclaimed this passage and it provides a good answer to my occasional query. For the rich man, nothing at all has changed. During his lifetime, he thought people like Lazarus existed to serve people of his kind and he thinks no different in death. Let Lazarus come and serve me, is what he asks of Abraham. Lazarus is still inferior, still not an object of his concern. There is not repentance here of the way the rich man has lived his life.

I was struck by that observation. It is easy to regret the consequenses of our acts, especially when they involve suffering. But mere regret of the suffering conquences is not itself an indication of any change of heart. But there can not be any chance in the consequences without a real change of the heart and mind that produced them. And that change wasn’t there for the rich man.

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