The Conundrum of Rich and Poor
In today’s Gospel, St Luke describes the lifestyle of a rich man who dresses in purple and fine linen and is able to feast sumptuously every day. His table, however, does not seem to offer fellowship and companionship but rather isolation and exclusion. Lazarus, the beggar, ill and starving, subsists on almost nothing and has dogs, rather than humans, as companions. Loneliness remains a major issue for many in our society who are poor and marginalised.
Things are the opposite in heaven for Lazarus. He joins the company of Abraham and the angels. He had almost nothing on earth and is now richly blessed in heaven. For the rich man, however, existence has become a torment. He remains alone – the hell of loneliness – and no longer has his fine possessions and sumptuous lifestyle. Yet, he still carries with him his earthly assumptions. He attempts unsuccessfully to speak to Lazarus, his perceived inferior, through an intermediary, Abraham. He wishes to warn his brothers on earth about the prospects of hell but doesn’t make any connection between their privileged, uncaring lifestyle and its inappropriateness for the life of heaven, a point made very powerfully in today’s reading from Timothy.
In essence, the Gospel reading is less about inequality and more about connection. Those who are rich have within their power the capacity to offer benefits to the poor. The Church has within its power the capacity to reach out to all and commend to them the reality of God’s concern for all and the unqualified gifts of love and grace that God offers to all. This offer transcends all our earthly difficulties and inequalities. It is a breath-taking reality.