The webpage of the Youth Ministry of the Irish Province of Augustinians

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - 26th September 2010

Today we revisit the famous story of Dives and Lazarus.  In fact, the rich man is not named in the gospel story.  Dives is the latin for "rich man".  Nonetheless, this is one of the best-known, and in many ways, most challenging of any of the stories to be found in the gospels.

One of the reasons that it is so challenging is that we can all probably see something of ourselves in both characters.  On the one hand, if you are reading this you have access to an education and to sufficient wealth to use a computer.  It is likely, therefore, that your basic needs are more than catered for.  On the other hand, we can all identify with the experience of being ignored or passed over just like Lazarus is in the story.  It is not immediately obvious as to whom we should identify with.

Should we identify with Lazarus and believe that injustice and poverty will all be vanquished in the next life?  If that were the case why should we bother to take responsibility for the poverty and misery of others during this life?

Should we, on the other hand, identify with Dives and take this story as a warning to use our wealth (great or small as that may be) to help others?  Would this mean that we could in some way buy our way into heaven?

These questions are vexing because the answer to neither of them resonates with what we believe to be true.  I think the story of Lazarus and Dives is rather like a Medieval moral tale.  It tries to suggest how we should live with one another without entering into specifics.  We are, quite simply, both Dives and Lazarus.  We are also the interaction between them.

We are sometimes needy, ignored and passed over with the pain and hurt that comes with that experience.  This is not tolerable if our maxim for living is to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  Having had the experience of rejection it is incumbent on us to strive for inclusion.

Sometimes we are so cossetted by our own standard of living that we are completely oblivious to the needs of those around us.  Our security and our lifestyle can mean that we rarely, if ever, come face to face with extreme need.  Isn't it interesting to see how quickly people respond to international humanitarian disasters, and with such generosity?  The response to more local needs can be much more nuanced.  Of course Travellers should be accomodated, but not on my street; of course we should give money to the poor but I won't give to anyone on the street because they will probably only use it for drink or drugs; of course our taxes should be used to take care of the most vulnerable in our society but I am actually paying rather a lot of tax already thank you very much.

The story of Lazarus and Dives is an important story.  It is important because it doesn't allow us, any of us, to escape the central truth that in our world wealth is not evenly distributed.  It is of secondary importance who has the wealth because, it seems to me, that wealth will always be unevenly distributed.  This is not a hopeless situation, however, because we can do something about it.  The people we elect, the charities we support and our own use of our money and our time can all make a difference.

Many will agree with these sentiments.  However, the greatest challenge to our social commitment as Christians is a small three-letter word - "but".  The word "but" allows us to justify things into non-existence, it allows us to remove things from my world and it allows me to comparmentalise my life so that things do not interfere with me in any meaningful way.  I think we have to take our courage in our hands.  For once we should take example from the smokers who are told (in signs over bins in many cities): PUT YOUR BUTTS HERE.  We should, all of us, in our homes and churches and on our streets have some place to put our buts... because where we tend to put them ourselves has the unfortunate effect of limiting how we can be with others and can really limit how others are able to live their lives.


Article posted on 25th of September 2010

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