Grace to you!
When I was in kindergarten, a nun showed us a movie about the rich man and Lazarus. The movie depicted how uncaring the rich man was. Whenever the rich man crossed the entrance to his home, he would refuse to offer bread to the poor man (Lazarus) who sat begging for food.
I had a very bad impression of the rich man, believing he was heartless, too callous as not to help a poor, dying beggar. However, as I grew up, I started to read the bible myself and discovered that the movie exaggerated the rich man’s story. At face value, the rich man wasn’t really that mean; he behaved the same way many of us do today.
Look at the true story as it is presented in Scripture (Luke 16:19-31). Read it prayerfully. Lazarus never begged for bread. He only wished to have the scraps from the rich man’s table. No one gave him anything to eat. He only wished, he never asked. Pay attention to this distinction because, in my opinion, it is important. So, how is it that the rich man is found guilty of an offense he never committed? How is it the Lord depicted his action as those deserving of eternal punishment? Afterall, Lazarus never asked.
If one were to follow the law of the time during which the parable was told, the rich man did not commit any offense because Lazarus never made any request. Isn’t it a common expectation that when people don’t ask, they shouldn’t expect to receive? Lazarus never asked. One may say, as is usually the case nowadays: “He is neither my buddy nor my family, so who cares.” Often, many of us have this kind of attitude in response to situations that require our moral sensitivity and response.
Nonetheless, regarding praiseworthy morality, what is right and wrong is not measured only by what we have done, but also by what we have failed to do. At least, this is basic Catholic moral sense of responsibility. It isn’t simply about what evil we may have done. It is also about the good deeds we failed to do. The two go together. The latter is even more inspiring since it is more evidently connected with the law of charity. It is in this that the rich man got it wrong; completely wrong.
We have to understand that failure to do good may be the same as doing evil. Note that St. Augustine described evil as the absence of good (none being). Offenses against God and humanity aren’t only about actively committing sin or doing evil things, but also failing to do good. It is failing to be that moral light and existence which we are and should lead.
At the beginning of the celebration of the Eucharist, during the penitential rite, we Catholics recite the Confiteor (I Confess). We pray to be forgiven, for what we have done and what we have failed to do. All traditional Catholic prayers for repentance, including the Act of Contrition,contain the same element—what we have done wrong and what good we have failed to do.
The sin of the rich man was that he failed to notice that at the corner of his luxurious home (I suppose) and in contrast to his flamboyant garb, was a poor person who could have lived longer had he been given food and basic care. The sin of the rich man was negligence; or in moral theology, what is called sin of omission.
Negligence is, therefore, as serious an offense as the active commission of a sin. Doing just enough to get by is not right. Basic hospitality and generosity to the poor around us is a Christian duty, not simply an option. Christians are called to go the extra mile. Our practice of virtue goes the extra mile. Our spiritual life isn’t couched in simply avoiding evil or sin, as it is about doing what is good, honorable and virtuous.
As we go about our schedules this new week, let us also know that God expects us to be more conscious of the needy, and needy situations, around us. Also, it is important to be sensitive to a number of people who, though are dying of need, may not be courageous enough to ask. It is even worse when they ask, and we fail to help when we can.
May we, therefore, look around our homes, streets, places of work, schools, clubs, etc., to see if there is a Lazarus. That Lazarus may need some help from us. It’s wonderful, actually virtuous, if we notice and offer some help.
Remember, if good isn’t done, evil has a field day. Just like the practice of virtue is, invariably, the stifling of vices. Go for the good!
Praying for more grace of generosity. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[26th Sunday C: Am 6:1, 4-7; 1 Tm 6:11-16; Lk 16: 19-31]
Author and Goal
Father Maurice Emelu PhD., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. The goal is to teach, inspire, encourage, and foster healing through the grace of God's word. They are written in a language that is appropriate for a general audience. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration, and developing your thoughts. They may also be useful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.