We all know the story of the rich man and Lazarus. It’s one of the stories we probably learned about as a child. There are a number of similarities and differences in their lives.
The rich man and Lazarus were both created equally in God’s image. Both had God’s mercy and love. Both had a desire for the good things in life. Both, as humans, had to die at the end of their life. Both received the judgment after their death. That is where the similarity ends in today’s parable.
One of the first differences we notice was their position in life. The rich man “dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day.” The poor man lying at the door of the rich man was covered with sores and would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.
We would surmise from our knowledge of the culture at the time of Christ, that the poor man had an infirmity that prevented him from working to support his family or he would not be lying at someone’s door. He was shamed by his inability to work and earn a wage to survive in the harsh world of that time.
Dogs even came to lick his sores. We are fond of our pets and dogs become like a family member for us. We are happy when our dog comes to lick us. But the Jewish people considered dogs unclean and would never consider keeping one as a pet. To add to the poor man’s hunger, Lazarus had to endure an unclean animal licking his sores. This added insult upon the poor man’s shame.
Both the rich man and the poor man died. When they died, all earthly feelings, including pain and suffering, ended. Their ability to influence their destiny stopped and both of them faced the judgment based on how they lived their lives on earth.
It is interesting to note that when the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The Bosom of Abraham was the place where the souls of the just went after death waiting for the Messiah to come to earth. It was a place of peace and quiet repose for the soul. Christ descended into hell to release the souls who were waiting in Abraham’s Bosom.
However, when the rich man died, it simply states that he was buried. He was in the netherworld where he was in torment. Was he in torment because he had wealth? No! The rich man was in torment because he showed no respect for Lazarus as a person in this life. The sin for the rich man was the way he treated others; the lack of respect for those around him.
Respect. It’s something we all want and yet we frequently don’t receive. But do we always have respect for everyone we meet? Everyone? Not just others who are like us. Everyone!
As a child, I was raised to respect everyone regardless of who they were; regardless of the color of their skin or their position in life. During my formation studies to become a deacon, I was impressed by the amount of emphasis the Catholic Church placed on the Dignity of the Human Being. That teaching articulated the way I was taught as a child but could not express in word.
The problem with our society and world today is that we have lost our respect for each person as a human being; a Child of God. Slowly over time, we then lose respect for ourselves and begin to despise and hate others. That is what happened at Burlington Mall a couple nights ago; a person killed five people because he lost respect for the dignity of those people.
Remember, the difference in where the rich man and Lazarus finally ended after death was based on the way they treated others during their life. Lazarus didn’t resent or wish hateful things on the rich man. It would have been easy for Lazarus to do that since he had so little and the rich man had so much and wouldn’t even let him have the scraps from the table.
In situations like that, it is easy to become as sinful as the other person who had not regard for others. It’s “Not Fair!” Jesus never said that life would be fair. In fact, he said the exact opposite; Life would be hard, People will hate you for my name, Take up your cross and follow me.
We may have wished bad on people who seem to have everything and refuse to share with those in need or to those who criticize us constantly. It’s easy to resent or even wish bad things for a person like that. But, Jesus and our Catholic faith teaches us that we must respect everyone. Let’s face it, that is really difficult at times.
God’s mercy and grace are there for us too when we fail and resent or hate others for their actions toward us. We can still ask for God’s forgiveness and mercy so we can be like Lazarus in our actions and be carried to heaven by the angels at the end of our life.
Do we truly respect the person begging on the corner at the traffic light? Do we really respect the Muslim family who lives next door? Do we respect the family that has a teenager who has green hair and plays loud rap? Do we respect the couple across the street who are always yelling and calling each other names? Do we respect the relative who is always critical of everything we do? Will we respect the winner of our elections this year even if we didn’t vote for that person? Will we respect others who voted for that person?
At the end of our lives we will receive our reward if we have treated others with respect and kindness even though they are different than us or have been hateful toward us. Will our lives be full of respect and kindness for others so we too can receive the reward of heaven?