When Jesus told the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), his audience must have cringed in disbelief and shock. The reason was simple: his contemporaries were convinced that prosperity was clearly God’s reward for a good life and, vice versa: they thought that a miserable life in straits and poverty was the result of dissolute living.
Hence, what is the message of Life that Jesus wants to convey to us by retelling this shocking story?
One thing is for sure: that no one of us here present lives the caricature life of decadence and self-indulgence described in our reading from the Prophet Amos (6: 1, 4-7).
Yet, there is a lot in this story to give us pause—a long pause. If we are not careful, gradually, a little bit each day, some people whom the Lord has placed close to us, would become invisible; to our cares they would cease to exist.
The rich man was so wrapped up in God’s material blessings that he could see right through the emaciated face and outstretched arms of Lazarus, the beggar.
Before I proceed to offer some additional considerations on this vital page of the Gospel, let me point out to you that only poor Lazarus has a name, the rich man lost his. He remains nameless.
This is quite significant: we know that God has carved in the palm of his hand the name of each one of us. (cf. Isaiah 49:16)
We, his adopted children through Baptism, are given each a name that, along with the names of God’s other children, makes up the very Body of his Son, the Christ. So, if we ignore our neighbor, if we see right through them, we lose our identity; we forfeit our name!
According to this parable, indifference, refusal to respond personally, directly, and lovingly, creates such a deep chasm that no one could bridge.
In the Gospel of Matthew about Judgment Day (25:31-46) those who failed to recognize Christ in the needy, would become aware of their blindness too late. In the vain attempt at a lame justification, they would ask the Lord when they saw him hungry, thirsty, homeless, hurting and failed to attend to his needs.
The existential question that must be bothering us very often should be: “have most needy people around here and in mission lands become invisible to me?”
At the end of the famous parable of the Good Samaritan, we are given a specific order: “Go and do likewise.”
The Good Samaritan did not wonder whether the unfortunate victim of robbers on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was alive or dead, traveling legally or illegally, if he was a fellow Samaritan or a foreigner, enemy or friend (he was stripped of all identifying clues); he simply felt compassion and became neighbor to him; he drew near him and attended to his needs as best he could.
It is spiritual schizophrenia to believe in transubstantiation: i.e., that, after the words of institution by the priest, the bread and the wine of the Eucharist become truly the body and blood, soul and divinity of our God and Lord Jesus Christ, while ignoring his equally real presence in the needy whom we can help unless they become invisible through our indifference to their plight.
We must avoid having to ask the Lord, on Judgment Day, when we might have seen him hungry or thirsty, or homeless and failed to attend to his needs. His reply would be too chilling to endure: “He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me’.” (Matthew 25:45)
The elephant in the room, though, is the gargantuan crisis at our southern border. Our Faith tells us that Jesus is for sure among those innumerable throngs of homeless people pouring daily into our country in waves so huge that they overwhelm border officials. However, trekking with Jesus are traffickers in other human beings, including children, marked for sexual exploitation or for coerced labor. Trekking with Jesus are also emissaries of drug cartels pushing deadly drugs such as Fentanyl. Terrorists hell-bent on our collective destruction, too, are entering covertly with violent criminals and many others with evil intentions and no scruples.
How do we welcome Jesus into our homes while keeping out those who are intent on creating havoc, destruction, and death all around us and in our very families?
We are more than concerned. We are confused and torn. We are frightened. We are worried.
We need the light of the Holy Spirit to help us live out the “serenity prayer” in dealing with this ageless and thorniest problem.
We need the serenity to accept what we cannot do on account of our many limits; the courage to do what Jesus demands of us in this ongoing most troubling situation and the wisdom to know the difference between the former and the latter.
What our Heavenly Father doesn’t want us to do is to intentionally shut our hearts and refuse to make ourselves available to do whatever he might ask of us to alleviate the condition of any desperate children of his.
May the Lord sharpen our eyesight to recognize him hidden in all derelicts on our path.