Why Did the Rich Man End Up In Torment in the Netherworld?

Today’s Gospel is Luke’s account of a parable Jesus told the Pharisees, the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

The parable is familiar to us.  A rich man “who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day,” ignored the plight of a poor man named Lazarus.  Given that Lazarus lay at the man’s door, the rich man must have practically had to step over him each day.  Yet the man did nothing to help him.

When both men died, Lazarus “was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham” and the rich man ended up in “the netherworld, where he was in torment.”

Fr. Warren Sazama asked in his sermon at Mass this morning: what did this rich man do to deserve eternal torment?  He didn’t affirmatively do anything bad; the implication from the fact that Jesus told this parable to the Pharisees is that he was not a sinful man.  Like the Pharisees, he likely broke none of the ten commandments.

Why did the rich man end up in torment in the netherworld?  Not for something he did, but for what he did not do.  He did nothing.  He ignored the needs of his brother Lazarus.  Indeed, he didn’t recognize Lazarus as his brother.  “I have five brothers,” he tells Abraham, not counting Lazarus among them.  And that was the cause of his separation from God upon his death.

It is not enough to say we love God.  We demonstrate our love for God by our love for one another.  And we demonstrate it most profoundly when we take care of the needs of those who suffer.