Why Is The Rich Man Punished?
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man simply ignored Lazarus, yet he paid the ultimate price for his seemingly innocuous mistake.
We face this same problem today. We often overlook those around us, but Jesus is calling us to see Him in every person and every circumstance.
How well do we see those around us? Truly see them? We are all brothers and sisters and Christ, yet often we miss opportunities to serve and love those who are right in front of us.
Jesus makes it very clear that the consequences of living a self-absorbed life are serious and eternal.
As Jesus speaks to the Pharisees about how they don't see the Lord present in front of them and in their midst, we too can be in a position where we get comfortable, and we stop seeing the Lord at work around us.
Bishop Smith’s Full Homily Transcript
00:02 Why was the rich man punished? Why was the rich man punished?
00:16 He served, uh, you're on the right track, right there. Um, he wasn't punished because he was rich. He was punished because of something else. And Jesus uses the parable, uh, to make the Pharisees and the people that it was listening to him. Very uncomfortable. So young man, if you hold that on, so we'll get back to that answer here in a little bit because you're right, you're very much on the right track. So this parable is interesting because when we look at it, there's some aspects to it that help us understand what's going on. So Jesus is still in the midst of a dispute with the Pharisees. And this follows on the parable of the steward that we heard last week. And the Pharisees are challenging Jesus. And so he's answering this way. So in this parable, we have two people who are the two people? The rich man and Lazarus.
01:19 Okay. So sometimes the rich man has given a name, which is, Oh, sometimes he's a, he's described as Dives, uh, or dives spelled dives, but it's actually the Latin word for rich. And remember st John Paul's and encyclical, Dives In Misericordia, which is rich in mercy. So, but that's not his name. We don't know his name, but the other person, the poor person's name is Lazarus. Interesting that this is the only account in the gospels where we get the name of somebody in one of the parables that Jesus tells you. Only one time.
02:04 So let's take a look at the, these, these two figures. Um, Lazarus means is the Latinized version of the Jewish name Elizar, which means God is my help. So Jesus is setting up these, this parable already. You can see what's going on. Jesus repeatedly, when he speaks to the Pharisees, there's listeners starts at one point and does this little move where he flips everything on its head by the end.
02:35 And you see this again in this parable. So we'd given details in the scriptures. And when we're given details, it's usually for a reason. The Holy spirit inspires the scriptures and the authors and those details are meant to communicate something to us. So what do we know about the rich man? What does scripture tell us about the rich man? He ate very well. Yes - dined sumptuously every day. There's another detail. He, he was dressed in these fine purple garments and linen garments. So purple was a sign of royalty of the day. But it's interesting because the description of the purple and the linen fits very closely to descriptions of the Jewish high priest. Can see why people was the Pharisees and others were like, wait a minute, this Jesus guy is getting a little close. Yeah. So we have this guy who dresses well and he lives and eats wonderfully.
03:35 Now remember, this is a culture in which a people had meat perhaps one day a week. They were considered incredibly blessed and they worked for six days in a week. So only on the Sabbath that they had off. So that's the normal culture. And so here's this guy living this way. I mean, this was lifestyles of the rich and famous of Palestine edition, right? So, and he's greatly blessed. He doesn't have to work. He doesn't have to do any of these things. He's on the level of today would perhaps, um, guy who's runs his own multinational corporation or global tech company, that kind of level. So you have that. Now you have Lazarus on the other side.
04:19 So what are we told about Lazarus? He's hungry. Where does it, where's he hanging out? By the door of the rich man's residence and what's he waiting for? Crumbs. So that sounds odd. What are crumbs? So here's what the scripture means when we talk about crumbs. Back in those days, they didn't have utensils to eat with. So what did they eat with what we do when we go out and do a barbecue and weekends? So what do we do when we finished eating with our hands? I can't, what did they wash their hands with and dry them? So they didn't have anything. We have napkins, we have soap, we have all this. So what they would do is they would use chunks of bread to clean their hands. So you've got all the food and the grease and so on on your hands. And they would wipe the hands in the bread and that's what they would throw away.
05:26 So what is Lazarus waiting for? The hunks of bread that have all the bits of food or whatever, the gravy and all this stuff on them. So this is what he is looking at as he's trying to survive in the midst of all of this. As a quick aside here. Yeah, we'll do it as one of my seminary professors would say in his thick Scottish accent. This is a silly digression, but why stop now? So at the last supper, that little detail helps us understand a little bit about the last supper. So at the last supper we know who was on the one side of Jesus, and that was John because John leans his head on Jesus' shoulder. Who's on the other side of Jesus was Judas because what they would do, and you'd have meals between every two people. You'd have this bowl of food and the bread huck.
06:35 So who puts his hand in the dish with Jesus? So even up to the end, Jesus is reaching out to try and save Judas and draw him back. That's the mercy of God. He knows what Judas' intent is. And yet he still seeks to save him, just like he does with you and I. So this is the situation we find in the gospels. So Lazarus is at the door waiting for these, these scraps, and of course the animals and so on are licking him and doing all the rest. So then we end up in this situation where suddenly Lazarus is with Abraham in paradise and the rich man is suffering, which would have been a shock to Jesus's listeners because it went against the understanding of how God worked and the Jewish mindset. If you were blessed by God, if you have pleasing in God's sight, God rewarded you in this life with all these blessings.
07:49 So for Jesus's listeners at the time, they would have said this rich man was pleasing in the sight of God. And that's why he has all these blessings and Lazarus on the other hand, they would've said, Lazarus messed up some way, or his family messed up somewhere. And that's why he's in this situation. Remember in the gospels, there's an occasion where they ask them, was it this man's sin or the sin of his family that did this to him? And Jesus says neither. But that was the Jewish understanding at the time, that you were rewarded in this life for whether you lived a life pleasing to God or you suffered in this life fall whether you were displeasing to God. And that's the counter what you see that struggle in the book of Job. So Job is a righteous man, and yet all this, this bad stuff happens to him and his friends tell them, Job, you messed up. You know, you need to repent and so on Job's saying, no, wait, you know, I'd been living righteous. So it's the struggle between why do bad things happen to good people. Because as human beings, we love the cause and effect thing, right? I okay, God, I'm going to live right, therefore you have to bless. But it's more complex than that.
09:14 So that's the, that's the situation. So for Jesus's listeners, this would have been a huge shock to them because he turns on its head what they would have understood. So why is the rich man suffering? Who is the villain in the story? Is the rich man of the loom? Is he evil? Is he bad? No, he isn't. He isn't. That's not what gets them in trouble. And Lazarus, is Lazarus a particularly heroic or virtuous figure? While we don't know that either, do we?So, why is the rich man in this situation? The rich man doesn't have Lazarus thrown out or driven away or denied him food. He just, this is life and this is life how they understand it.
10:07 But there's something else on this. As Jesus puts his finger on. So the rich man was Jewish. What was Lazarus? We assume he was Jewish, right? So now we have somebody who is a brother, Jew, so to speak. And what are you doing for him? And in the Jewish culture and the culture of the time, hospitality was a key thing. See, the problem with the rich man wasn't that he was evil, wasn't that he, he mistreated Lazarus. The problem with the rich man is the same kind of problem that we have today. He just didn't see him. Lazarus was there and was like, he was invisible to him. It's like, we walk out the church yet, okay, there's the grass. They, the flowers, they're the cause. There's Lazarus, its just part of the scenery.
11:10 That's how the rich man sees the situation. But this is his brother in the faith that he has an obligation in charity to. But he's just part of the scenery. And Jesus is using this to make a point to the Pharisees and to us. And the Pharisees would see, you know, we're blessed by the Lord and people like Lazarus are, well, like they're getting what they deserve. But Jesus, his whole point in all this is the kingdom of God and his values of the kingdom of God are quite different to what's going on in the world around us. I mean the, the, the, the rich man in the gospel, stories of poster boy from the narcissistic, self-absorbed, uh, mentality that we see around us so often today.
12:03 You know, I'm blessed in that isn't life great and we have no sense about commitment to one another. Well, we have that kind of commitment to each other because we're baptized. How many, how many of us are baptized? We're all baptized, almost all of us. So that means we're brothers and sisters in Christ. Are we stuck with each other? Right? It's like family members. You may have brothers and sisters or people in your family that you're stuck with, right? Some of them you love and get along with others. It's just like, I'm going to be kind and charitable to this person. All those who do that raise, no, don't raise your hands.
12:41 But in faith we have this commitment to one another as Catholics and Christians and beyond that, and when we, when we stop and start to see beyond the people that are basically just in the scenery, that's where the Holy spirit can start to get to work in those situations.
13:06 I live in North Portland with my community. And there was a fellow that used to come around the, his name was Russell. We didn't know it at the time. We've, as we got to know him, we found it out from somebody else. Actually, Russell was in a wheelchair and Russell was interesting because most people move the wheelchair when they're looking forward, not Russell. He would sit in his wheelchair and push himself backwards looking over the shoulder like this. And Russell was, I mean you could, it was basically he was living somewhere, but he wasn't homeless, but he was kind of on the verge of homeless and looked like that long scraggly beard and all the rest. And Russell would come by and, and try and get bottles and cans from the recycling bins to go and take in. And of course, because he was limited, they are people that come by before sunset on the evening before going through all the bottles and cans and taking what their, what they can recycle.
14:06 So we decided, no, we're not gonna do that. We waited and then we told him we were trying. We found out his name, we tried to engage him. He was just pretty standoffish and we just kept working at it and we told him there was a place around the side of the house where we keep the bin with all the, all the recyclables before we put them out there. So we told them where they were and feel free to come on by. And so we'd be in the evenings, we'd be there and suddenly we'd hear all the cans and things. There was Russell getting what he can and putting it in the bag. And uh, so sometimes we'd save them up, we see him coming. We'd go out, it's all in the bag and give it to, it was very interesting. More and more as we saw him and got talking to him, he began to talk more and more and sort of come alive.
14:59 And the guy was an absolute character, absolute character. He had a very hard life and an accident which left him, left him a paraplegic. Um, his wife had left him because she couldn't deal with having to take care of him. He had his own issues. He had, he admitted he had had a real bad temper and so on. But now he's living here and then we get quite chatty with the guy. And it was interesting to see the, just the recognition and the human contact and the conversation, how this brought life and joy to this man. You still wouldn't let us help them and give them anything more than the cans, you know, he was, he wanted to, this is what he could do in this, otherwise he's okay. It was one of those moments where we got to know about him and his life and it was one of those things that never would've happened if he just remained as part of the scenery and the background.
16:04 So what does this whole mean for us as people of faith and as Catholics living out faith? Do we know the people next to us in the Pew? Do we know our brothers and sisters in the faith or are they also part of the scenery that's behind, around us. As Jesus speaks to the Pharisees about how they don't see the Lord present in front of them and in their midst again, and again and again, we too can be in that position where we get comfortable in our faith and we stop seeing the Lord at work around us and in the people around us and in the circumstances around us. And the gospel today is a reminder to us of that yes, we need to be firm in our faith. Yes, we need to do what the Lord calls us to do in order to live a life of faith and to continue the mission of the Lord in this world.
17:10 The same time, we also need to be open to what the Lord is doing in people around us and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. So as we reflect on all of this let us, take a moment and thank the Lord for the life of faith that he has called us to the many blessings of that life of faith and also the people of faith in our lives around us. And let us ask the Lord to help us to see those opportunities and to see that in his presence and people around us and the circumstances that we find ourselves so that we too would not miss the grace that God has for us in each of those places. And each of those people.