There’s a story about a sailor who was shipwrecked on a beautiful but primitive island in the South Seas. The natives picked him up off the beach, carried him on their shoulders to their village, and placed him on a crude throne. As the man slowly learned their language over the next few weeks, he discovered that he had been made their king. It was their custom to choose someone as king once a year. The sailor thought this was great, but then he began wondering what had happened to all the previous kings. Through careful questioning, he learned that at the end of the year, the king was banished to a nearby empty island, where he eventually starved to death. The sailor didn’t like the sound of this, but he was still king for the remainder of the year, so he used his intelligence and his authority to make some changes. The people were very primitive, so their king improved their lifestyle. He had his carpenters make boats, he taught the farmers new ways of raising crops, and he showed other workers how to make buildings of stone. The island began thriving, but the king didn’t stop there; using the newly-built boats, he had fruit trees carried over the empty island and transplanted there; the farmers raised crops there, and the workers built stone houses. Thus, when the year was over, the king was banished not to a barren island, but to one which had been made into a comfortable island paradise (Illustrations Unlimited, p. 339).
We have to plan ahead in life, using wisely the time and opportunities we’re given. This is true not only of material things, but also of our relationships with others. God’s creation is interconnected. When we help people in need, we end up benefitting ourselves; when we ignore the needs of others, we hurt ourselves in the long run. The more we share, the more we eventually receive back; the more we practice selfishness, the more we’ll find ourselves empty and alone. God wants us to prepare for the riches of heaven by sharing our riches on earth.
Sacred Scripture warns us to avoid complacency when it comes to the sufferings of others. The Letter to Timothy (1 Tim 6:11-16) tells us to “compete well for the faith . . . [and] keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of Our Lord Jesus Christ. . . .” Both the Old and New Testaments consistently include concern for others as one of God’s expectations of His people. A failure to do this was the reason the prophet Amos condemned the rich; they were too busy with their comfortable and luxurious lifestyle to notice the suffering of the poor. For this reason, Amos (6:1, 4-7) said, they would be the first to suffer when Jerusalem was overthrown. Jesus repeated this message in the Gospel of Luke (16:19-31). Lazarus was oppressed—not by the rich man, but by the circumstances of his life, which were beyond his control. The rich man could have done something to change these circumstances; even a little effort on his part would have made a big difference to Lazarus. This effort was never made, and that was the rich man’s sin. If he had helped Lazarus, he himself would have benefitted spiritually. Instead, he neglected an opportunity to do good, and he ended up paying the price.
I think it’s safe to say two things about ourselves. First, we’re all good people. Second, we’re probably not as quick to see and respond to the needs of others as we might be. God is pleased with this first truth, but He wants us to work at changing the second. There are people who need us, but sometimes we’re too busy or self-centered to realize this. There are people who could use our help, but sometimes they’re too hesitant or fearful to ask for it. It’s part of our Christian duty to look around us and see what we might do to help others. For example, when a person’s spouse dies, it’s quite common for friends and relatives to tell the survivor, “Now be sure to call me if you need anything.” That’s a nice sentiment, and it’s probably genuine; however, many widowed persons don’t have the energy or initiative to call, or they’re hesitant about imposing on others. What’s truly helpful is for the friend or relative to take the initiative and call or visit the person, saying, “How are things going? Would you like to talk about it?,” or “Come on, let’s go out to lunch,” or “I’m going to the store right now—can I get you anything?”
The same idea applies in many areas. People are often ashamed or shy or afraid to admit their needs, but we know they have them—after all, we only have to think back on our own experiences of life. We need to get into the habit of asking others how they’re doing, of offering our services, and of expressing our concern; we need to become more aware of the needs and feelings of our family members, our relatives and friends, our neighbors and fellow parishioners, our co-workers and acquaintances, and even of strangers whom we encounter by chance. It’s quite possible that in our life there is a Lazarus figuratively lying on our doorstep, someone we’ve overlooked or taken for granted. It’s easier for us when this person asks for our help, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes we have to make the effort to look and see and respond. God constantly does this for us, and He asks us to try to do this for others. Life on earth is our opportunity to use God’s grace in making ready an everlasting dwelling place for ourselves in heaven. We have been richly blessed in many different ways, and the more we share these gifts in a generous spirit, the greater the treasure that awaits us. We are all united together in God’s plan of creation; we must also be united with one another in His love.