May We Seek Out Every Lazarus Before Us

User’s Guide to Sunday, Sept. 29

The Poor Lazarus at the Rich Man's Door, by James Tissot
The Poor Lazarus at the Rich Man's Door, by James Tissot (photo: Public domain; Wikipedia)

Sunday, Sept. 29, is the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). Mass readings: Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146: 7-10; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31.

Today’s readings continue the theme over the last several weeks about wealth. The lesson today is sobering and ought to give many pause.

The first reading from the prophet Amos condemns the wealthy who sleep in fine “beds of ivory” and “drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the best oils” while the poor suffer. They will be the first to suffer when Israel collapses.

St. Paul reminds us in his Letter to St. Timothy that we ought to “pursue righteousness” and to “lay hold of eternal life, to which [we] were called.” This reminder is necessary in light of the lesson from the Gospel of St. Luke, where we hear the famous story of Lazarus and the rich man.

We know little about the rich man besides that which Jesus tells us. He dresses well and dines “sumptuously each day.” We also know that each day he would have passed by Lazarus, a poor man “covered with sores,” who lay at the front door of his home. He passed by and did nothing. We don’t know much about the rich man but that when he died he landed in “the netherworld, where he was in torment.” He ignored the poor man at his front door. For that, and that alone, as far as we know, Jesus tells us he went to a kind of hell.

While there, he “raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.” The rich man begged first for some relief from Lazarus, but having been rebuffed by Abraham, he asks that his brothers be warned, perhaps by the ghost of Lazarus. Abraham says that if the brothers will not listen to Moses and the prophets, then they will not listen “if someone should rise from the dead.”

Of course, Christ Jesus did rise from the dead, and so we must ask ourselves if we have been listening to Moses and prophets like Amos in today’s first reading or the prophets given to us by the Church.

Consider St. Clement of Alexandria, who wrote that “wealth seems to me to be like a serpent, which will twist round the hand and bite; unless one knows how to lay hold of it without danger by the point of the tail.” St. Cyprian of Carthage asked how the wealthy can follow Jesus when they “are held back by the chain of their wealth”? Asks St. Basil, “What answer shall you make to the judge, you who dress walls but will not clothe a man?”

The prophets of old and of the early Church all understood that wealth can deaden our conscience to the cry of the poor at our own front door and in so doing jeopardize our salvation. This has been the lesson in passage after passage these last weeks. In each case Our Lord warns us against pride and greed. But he has also encouraged us by messages of mercy.

Let us then be confident in the Lord’s love for us and so vigilant against the trappings of wealth as we seek out every Lazarus before us, seen and unseen.

Omar Gutierrez is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska.

He is the president and co-founder of the Evangelium Institute.