Thursday, March 4, 2010

Jesus and the right use of wealth (Thursday, 2nd Week of Lent, 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.’ Abraham replied, ‘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.’”

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The story of the rich man and Lazarus brings to mind the promise of justice that God will give his people at the end of time. At first glance, it seems like a mere condemnation of the rich who will find torment in the afterlife and a romanticizing of the poor who will be consoled and comforted in heaven when they die. While this is certainly one of the ideas the parable wishes to convey, there is a deeper meaning to the whole story.

The rich man finds himself condemned not for simply being rich. Jesus never said being rich was a sin. Instead, he finds himself tormented in the afterlife because in this life he showed himself quite indifferent to the plight of the poor Lazarus lying at his door, eating the scraps that fell on his table. It wasn’t his wealth that condemned him, it was rather what that wealth made of him—a man completely insensitive and indifferent to the plight of those who needed his help. It is what wealth does to a person that either merits him heaven or throws him into the fire in the afterlife, not wealth itself.

We too have possessions. We may not be as wealthy as the man in the parable, but we certainly own things. These in themselves, however much they might be, are neither good nor bad. But it is the effect they have on us that will determine whether they turn out to be good for us, or otherwise. How we use our wealth and the things that we own in order to be of help to our neighbor is what will ultimately decide where it is we shall go.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)