Usually Jesus gives his parables a very short introduction. For example, one of
his longest parables, the Good Samaritan, gets to the point very quickly: A man was
going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. Today’s
parable, however, has a lengthy wind-up pitch.
Jesus wants to make sure we see the rich man and Lazarus very clearly in our mind’s eye.
He is trying to tug at our hearts; he wants us to feel compassion for Lazarus, even as he shows us clearly how the rich man (traditionally nicknamed “Divēs”) lived his life. And when Jesus points out that Lazarus spent his days begging at Divēs’ front door, I think he is hoping we feel a little shocked at the close proximity of two people we would normally view so differently.
It is clear that Jesus – at least Luke’s Jesus – believes the afterlife to be a place a
reversal (Woe to you who eat your fill now! You will be hungry!! Luke 6:25). Lazarus,
who lived in friendless torment, is now surrounded by love. Divēs, who on earth had
everything he wanted, now lives in hell. This is why Jesus, especially in Luke’s gospel,
emphasizes simplicity and repentance. If we can break our self-indulgent habits in this
life, then we will be welcome at a magnificent feast in the next.
If Divēs committed any sin, it was that of indifference to the tormented man lying
at his door. I remember in a previous job walking past a homeless man every day. The problems he had seemed far beyond anything I could help with, and so every day I walked right by him. Then one Lent I decided I would at least introduce myself and we started to chat a little every morning after that. I never gave him any money, but my chat with him became one of the bright points in my morning. My relationship with him helped me understand the problem of homelessness in my city, and helped me find ways I could actually help him and others.
As we read this week’s gospel, then, let us take up Jesus’ twofold challenge, first to live lives of humble simplicity, and second to overcome the temptation to indifference.