Ordinary Time 26, Year C

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours; woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation (Lk. 6:20, 24)

We are told that Jesus said to the Pharisees who, loving money, sneered at Jesus after they had heard him speak about the proper use of money: “You justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God” (Lk. 16:14-15).

Human esteem is usually not reserved for a poor person like “Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.” In the eyes of not a few people, such a person may even be considered detestable. That one’s sores, too, are licked by dogs would make one even more gruesome and abominable because of the uncleanness associated not only with the sores themselves but also with the dogs that might have had contact with carrion. Such a poor individual personifies failure. And who wants to fail or be depressed at being painfully reminded of the possibility that one may well fail?

It is generally people like the “rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day” that are admired, praised and esteemed by their fellow human beings. Unlike poor Lazarus, the rich folks have got it made and they exude “power, grace and style.” They embody success and point out to those craving for success that they too can be all that they can and want to be.

But exemplifying the teaching that “what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God,” the rich man ends up in torment below, while Lazarus is carried away to the bosom of Abraham above. The fates are reversed; the first in the eyes of men is last in the eyes of God and the last in the eyes of men is first in the eyes of God. The rich who relies on his wealth, and flaunts it, is nameless before God; the poor, however, bears the name “Lazarus,” which is synonymous with “God helps.”

There is, then, a great chasm between the divine and the human view of wealth and poverty. This gap cannot be bridged, which means that there is no middle position that both sides can arrive at by way of compromise. One either takes the divine view or one takes the human view. I cannot serve two masters; I cannot serve God and mammon. Either I am named Lazarus in solidarity with other Lazaruses or I remain ever nameless with the rich without identity. I either effectively listen to Moses and the prophets, and to Jesus who is their fulfillment, or just pay the first two lip service and sneer at the third.

And, yes, if I do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will I be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead. After all, the risen one would be—or better, is—none other than the poor one whom I disregard and exclude when I disregard Moses and the prophets, setting aside God’s commandment to uphold what I have been accustomed to, insisting on the minutiae and neglecting the weightier things of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness; devotion, faith, love, patience, gentleness—or misusing the blessedness of poverty and of the cross as an ideology to justify oppressive behavior (Mk. 7:9; Mt. 23:23; 1 Tim. 6:11; Father Robert P. Maloney, C.M., “The Cross in Vincentian Spirituality” in He Hears the Cry of the Poor). So, then, though I call myself a Christian and a Catholic, I can still be as an uncaring nameless rich even in the few things that I may possess or even in the spiritual, cultural or traditional “goods” that make me feel superior to others. These are “goods” perhaps that I may consider too sacred to give to those I liken to dogs, which can, therefore, become a motive for my insistence on excluding others (cf. “Comentario,” [1] and also Mt. 7:6).

But if today here on earth I—feeling safe and secure in my shelter and partying lavishly—separate myself from the homeless, hungry and joyless whom I take to be unworthy of human esteem, nay, abominable, then I should not expect to find tomorrow all of a sudden an easy access and exchange between me and them. If Christian, no doubt Vincentian, truth be told, really, unless I have “eyes and a heart directed toward the poor” and recognize the risen one, my Lord and Master, in the poor—“in their thirst, their hunger, their loneliness, and their misfortune”—I will be far from understanding the teaching that “what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God.”