The Lesson of the Rich Man

Gospel passages like this one from Luke are often very challenging, particularly for those of us in the United States.  Here, we enjoy a level of comfort that isn’t shared by vast numbers of people elsewhere. Our culture, too, often inhibits us from internalizing Christ’s very clear message that the accumulation of wealth is not only undesirable, but one of the greatest dangers to our own spiritual well-being.

As we go about our daily lives, it’s easy to become disconnected from the struggles of the poor in our community and our world. Stop and consider honestly how long it’s been since you’ve given thought to the fate of the poor? Are you one of the lucky ones who can say it was today? Or are you like most of us and it may have been days, weeks, months, or even longer since you truly thought about the poor and felt compelled to live out your disciple call to see them and embrace them in their need?

Pope Francis speaks of the poor frequently. Last year he declared that we would mark World Day of the Poor and encouraged all of Christ’s followers to make the poor a priority. This is not a new message! In fact, Jesus spoke of it often. The Church, for thousands of years, has recognized this imperative and set out to address injustice. In his homily last November on the occasion of the institution of World Day of the Poor, reflecting on the very same Gospel we hear this Sunday, he says that many people today are Lazarus and that they “weep while the wealthy few feast on what, in justice, belongs to all. Injustice is the perverse root of poverty.”

Like the cries of Lazarus to the rich man, he says, “the cry of the poor becomes louder, but it is increasingly ignored.”

Fortunately for us, the Mass offers us a powerful path toward feeling connected to the poor. Participation in the Eucharistic Feast brings us together as a community, beyond just the walls of St. Peter’s, and if we open ourselves to this experience fully, we will begin to see the many Lazaruses outside of our gates.

When we receive Holy Communion together in Christ, we not only receive the spiritual food for our own journey toward greater closeness with Christ, but also are sent forth on a mission to bring Him to the world, and especially those most in need. We are not only called to make His name known but to also make His love known. To leave our mission behind the moment we get back to our pews or walk out the door, is to half-heartedly embrace what’s given in His Love in the Feast.

Pope Francis continued, “This is the beginning of faith—to cast off the pride that makes us feel self-sufficient and to realize that we are in need of salvation. Faith grows in this climate.”

“This is why it is important for all of us to live our faith in contact with those in need. This is not a sociological option or a pontifical fad. It is a theological requirement to acknowledge one’s own spiritual poverty and that everyone, especially the poor, is pleading for salvation.

“Rouse us, Lord, from our idle calm, from the quiet lull of our safe harbors. Set us free from the moorings of self-absorption that weigh life down; free us from constantly seeking success. Teach us to know how to ‘leave’ in order to set out on the road you have shown us: to God and our neighbor.”

~ Pope Francis, November 18, 2018, The Vatican

The communal experience of Mass is our beginning. We can start close to home and allow the awareness to ripple outward. We can look with the eyes of the One who gave His life for us upon those who are at Mass with us. Even without knowing the details of their lives, or even their names, we can be open to their sufferings and daily struggles—each and every one of us has them. We can rejoice in their blessings and gifts as sisters and brothers.  We begin with seeing one another just as we are—His beloved sons and daughters. By His Grace, we may then begin to see as clearly, Lazarus, and those who share in his poverty and need, and avoid the fate of the rich man. The poor are precious to God, and so they must be precious to us, whoever they are, wherever they come from, whatever they face.

Lisa Amos
Director of Mission and Ministry


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