At first glance, this week’s Gospel passage can perhaps come across as being a critique of wealth and a praise of poverty. To see it in this way, however, would be to radically simplify what Jesus is truly meaning. What exactly is being implied by this parable? We find Jesus describing a wealthy man descending into the depths of hell and a poor man named Lazarus being exalted in Heaven with Abraham. One naturally comes to ask: is wealth sinful?
The answer is no. Wealth and riches are not sinful in themselves. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the fullness of life through riches – in fact, as we see in Job’s account, wealth can be regarded as a gift from God. If this is so, why does Jesus look down upon the ‘wealthy man’?
This is because of the wealthy man’s attitude towards others. If we reflect closely, we discover that, in this parable, the wealthy man has a very problematic attitude – he is selfish and egoistic. The wealthy man, even though he has plenty, continuously violates the principle of charity – which is to love others as we love ourselves. All throughout, God kept inviting the rich man to love. Indeed, although God gave the rich man the freedom to choose, He sent Lazarus behind the rich man’s door. Lazarus was precisely an invitation sent by God – an invitation to love! God sends these invitations in our lives too – even if often we may not realise. Sometimes we are too alienated to be aware that someone needs us, or that we can actually contribute. Indeed, to love others can take a lot of time and effort too – it requires us to stop and ask – what can I do to help this person? Who can I help? Am I loving enough?
We too, like Lazarus, are left free. God does not force us to love. But God is also just. In the end, the rich man – because he refused to love – was rejected by the Kingdom of love. And here, one cannot help but ask, was he really so rich, after all?
Ultimately, this week, Jesus reminds us where real ‘wealth’ lies. God does not abhor comfort or money – but he does abhor selfishness. The moment anything begins to stand in the way between us and charity, between us and our love for others, is the moment we turn ourselves away from God – our truest Self. Let us therefore take a moment to ask ourselves and reflect – there are different ways to love – but how are we expressing our love? What about those closest to us, are we loving them in a selfless way? Are we forgiving? Are we extending our patience, our time?
And amidst all this, let us joyfully keep in mind that, while God will keep inviting us to love, whenever we feel unable to love, our Lord will always be there to help us, to love us and to, with much patience, teach us what love really is:poverty is not more praiseworthy the greater it is: for poverty is not good in itself, but only inasmuch as it removes from a man’s path the obstacles of his freely applying himself to spiritual things: this is a general principle with respect to all creatures: they are good only in so far as they lead to virtue, not in themselves – Jacques Maritain