One of the things that struck me about the story of the rich man and Lazarus after I had prepared my homily is how selfish the rich man is throughout the story. In life, he only cares about his own comfort and in death he will do and say anything to get out of torment and return to his good life.
The thing is, I don't think most people, myself included, notice when we are being. In the past, I've worked with some of the most selfish people in the world. And these were church workers. They would only do projects if they could be in charge of them and stand at a microphone at some point to take credit for what they'd done.They would scream about collaboration and working together while only showing up to and working on their own projects. It seemed like collaboration meant that people should stop what they're doing and work with them on what they're doing. And, in the heart of it, on more than one occasion, I had to face the fact that I was behaving the exact same way as they were.
So what can I learn from the rich man and Lazarus to help me not fall into this trap in the future. In other words, what should the rich man have done for Lazarus? In some ways, all the rich man was doing was going about his daily life and expecting Lazarus to do the same. There's no sense from the story that Lazarus ever asked for help. There's no sense that the rich man had even the slightest bit of knowledge about the plight of Lazarus. Is that the real "crime" of the rich man? That he didn't pay attention to one Lazarus at his door who longed to eat the scraps that fell from his table? It would have been easier to change that attitude back then. He could have asked Lazarus to be a servant and paid him in food. There weren't labor laws. There weren't unions. The government didn't "interfere" in what you did as an employer. But, let's say that he just basically didn't need Lazarus. He's got more than enough servants as it is. Lazarus would just go from laying outside the house to laying inside it. Sure, he would have been more comfortable but why is that the responsibility of the rich man? Wouldn't his house have simply become filled with Lazaruses eating the scraps from his table?
Some have seen in this parable a call from God to divest ourselves of any unnecessary property. Basically, they say that we should not have so much in our lives when there are so many in this world that have nothing. I totally agree that is one message from the parable. Yet, a parable is given that name because it is more like an onion than a stop sign. It doesn't just have a one-for-one corresponding meaning but, instead, has layers of meaning that get stronger and stronger the deeper you go. And, for me, a slightly stinkier part of this story is that the rich man still only views other people as servants to make his life easier. The first time he pays any attention to Lazarus was when he asked Abraham to send him on an water errand. I imagine, however, that the rich man would say that he's not selfish at all. He didn't know about Lazarus during his life and now, instead of wanting to get out of Sheol, he simply wants to leave to tell his brothers to avoid the place. He simply wants to be the hero that keeps his 5 brothers from coming to this place. I bet that if you pointed out the very thing that Jesus pointed out, that if they won't listen to the wisdom of their religion they aren't going to listen to anyone, that he would still just want to get the hell out and go where his brothers are.
How many Lazaruses are out there that we cannot see because we are so focused on our own comfort or the way we think our lives should go?