Grace to you!
When I was in kindergarten, a nun showed us a movie of 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 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). 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 it is important.
So, how is it that the rich man is found guilty of an offense he never committed? Afterall, Lazarus never asked.
By law, 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?
Nonetheless, regarding sound morality, what is right and wrong is not measured only by what we have done, but also by what we have failed to do. Here is where the rich man got it wrong.
We have to understand that failure to do good may be the same as doing evil. Note that St. Augustine defined evil as the “absence” of good. Offenses against God and humanity aren’t only about actively committing sin or doing evil things, but also failing to do good.
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 beside his home was a poor person who could have lived longer had he been given food and care. His sin 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. 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 the 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. 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., and 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!
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.