September 25, 2016
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
The parable that we have heard today concludes Chapter 16 of the Gospel according to Luke, a chapter in which, as we said last Sunday, Jesus dwells upon to speak of wealth and material goods.
The parable is made up of two very distinct scenes: the first, in fact, takes place on earth, the second in the afterlife.
The two main characters are described from the first scene: the first is a rich man who dressed and dined sumptuously every day; the second is Lazarus, a poor man who lay at his door, without anything.
The two are evidently very near: a door separates them, but this door is closed and the two, in part one of the parable, do not see, do not encounter and do not speak to each other. Something is missing in this account, and that is the relationship between the two: it is the account of a non-relationship.
The second scene is played out in eternity. The Lord Jesus does not often speak of life after death, and he seems interested not so much in explaining to us what awaits us in the hereafter, as much as finding the way to get there. And even more, he wants us to understand that eternal life begins even now, on this earth, where one is opened up to the paradoxical logic of the Kingdom of heaven, which is a logic of gratuitous love, forgiveness and sharing.
When he speaks of eternity, referring to the Old Testament, Jesus usually uses the image of a festive banquet, in which all humanity will be reunited, to which the most diverse and remote persons are invited, even those whom we would not expect to see seated there; we heard just a few Sundays ago that many will come from the East and the West (Lk 13:20-30), and then that the banquet is sumptuously prepared for sinners who have converted than for the just (Lk 15).
Jesus also says that someone remains outside the door does not manage to enter the banquet: and even there, in that place of torture, strangely we do not find those whom would expect to find. We would expect to find there those who chose the wrong, who sinned: but Jesus never actually says that sinners go to hell!
He says rather that these will precede us into the Kingdom of heaven (Mt 21:31).
Also in today’s parable, in eternity the places are reversed and there, among the torments, we find the rich man.
What has he done to merit such a lot?
The Gospel does not say that he disrespected the law, that he broke the commandments, that he did evil to someone. It simply says that he feasted lavishly every day and was clothed splendidly and elegantly.
Where people live like this, at the door, there is surely a poor person who suffers.
The poor man lies at the door, but the rich man does not see him: the verb “to see” appears only in the second part of the parable, in the hereafter, while on earth, during his life, the rich man did not go beyond the door of his house, he did not go beyond his well-being, his satiety. He did not go beyond the boundary of his interests, of his things, in which his life (“every day” v. 19) was all within this little world made of pleasures, satiety, and satisfaction of needs: nothing else existed.
The rich man mixed up joy with pleasure, with satisfying his needs; he was content with himself. His sin was not the infringement of a law, but having not lived on the level of a different joy, for which we are created, which is the joy of communion.
He did not understand that life can be full, not when the stomach (that is, every need, every instinct) is full, but when we, all together, as brothers and sisters, share in a fullness that is for everybody.
Pleasure is something that closes you in on yourself; joy, on the contrary, opens you to others.
Jesus means to tell us that such a life is already a hell, through which after death we will not find another but that which we already began to live on earth: and in fact, in the second part of the parable, we find again the two protagonists in a far-off situation, of a non-relationship. Only that this situation is final.
Then, Jesus seems to say, wealth is a problem when it closes you, when it becomes an absolute and prevents you feeling part of the whole, of feeling a branch of a vine.
Riches (rather, anything that becomes a security, on which we place our well-being) creep in there, and become an absolute when they are only means.
In this regard, the reference to last Sunday’s parable (Lk 16:1-8) it is clear: there the dishonest steward used his wealth to make friends, while the rich man of today excludes Lazarus from his table.
The steward becomes unscrupulous to assure hope for himself, here the rich man does not see beyond his own well-being of a day.
For the dishonest steward, the time prior to judgment is by then short, but it is still a period for him to do something, and the steward does not let himself to eschew it.
The parable concludes with a dialogue between the rich man and father Abraham. A conclusion that is a bit surprising, because it does not cite an invitation to conversion, to take care of the poor: no, it says only that the way to eternal life and joy is that of listening to the Scriptures. Because listening is truly of the poor, of those who allow within themselves a space for the other. Listening is not a gesture, an action, but a style of life, the style of a life lived open to relationship.
And if that of the rich man and Lazarus is the story of a non-relationship, that of those who listen is the story of those who feel part of a whole, who need the other, who see the poor that lie at their door and feel his or her hunger.