DON’T IGNORE THOSE WHO SUFFER
The contrast between the two protagonists in the parable is tragic. The rich man dresses in purple and linen. His whole life is luxury and ostentation. He only thinks about «feasting magnificently every day». This rich man has no name since he has no identity. He is a no body. His life, empty of compassion, is a failure. You can’t live only on banquets.
Cast down in the gateway of his mansion lies a hungry beggar, covered with sores. No one helps him. Only some dogs come close to him to lick his wounds. He possesses nothing, but he has a name that is a beacon of hope. He’s called «Lazarus» or «Eliezer», which means «My God is my help».
Their destiny changes radically at the moment of death. The rich man is buried, surely with great solemnity, but is carried to «Hades» or «the kingdom of the dead». Lazarus also dies. No one says any funeral ritual, but «the angels carry him into Abraham’s embrace». Through popular images of that time, Jesus reminds us that God has the last word about the rich and the poor.
The rich man isn’t judged for being an oppressor. Nothing is said about him being an infidel distant from the Covenant. Simply that he has enjoyed his wealth, ignoring the poor. He had a poor man right there, but he hadn’t seen him. Right there in the gate of his mansion, but he didn’t go out to him. The poor man was excluded from his life. His sin is indifference.
According to researchers, there is growing in our society an apathy or a lack of sensibility in the face of other’s suffering. In thousands of ways we avoid direct contact with people who suffer. Little by little we make ourselves all the more incapable of noticing their affliction.
The presence of a child begging in our path bothers us. A visit with a terminally ill friend disturbs us. We don’t know what to do or say. It’s better to keep away. Go back to what we were doing. Don’t get caught up.
If the suffering occurs far away, it’s easier. We’ve learned to reduce hunger, misery or sickness to data, numbers, statistics that inform us of the reality without in the least touching our hearts. We also know how to look at horrible suffering on television, but through the screen, the suffering is always unreal and less terrible. When suffering affects someone closer to us, we labor to anesthetize our heart in hundreds of ways.
Whoever follows Jesus becomes more sensitive to the suffering of those we meet in our path. We come close to those in need and if it’s within our capability, we try to alleviate their situation.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf