BY: Fr. Gerald M. Musa



It’s not the difference between people that’s the difficulty; It’s the indifference, says an unknown author. Do we really care about what happens to another person or some other people? We tend to care only if the plight of another directly or indirectly affects our business, pleasure or welfare directly or indirectly. The twin evils that prevail in our world are indifference and insensitivity. The parable of the rich man and the poor man is one of the very famous parables of Jesus. In this parable Jesus speaks about a very rich man who lived next to a very poor beggar. Jesus vividly paints the picture of the lifestyle of the rich man, by mentioning his expensive purple dress and the feasts he enjoys in his house. The rich man was clothed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously everyday. The poor man was full of sores and desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. Jesus mentions the name of the poor man but withholds the identity of the rich man. Jesus may have been silent about the identity of the rich man to show that this insensitive person could be any of us. The Latin Bible gives the rich man the name Dives. The mention of the rich man’s lifestyle is not to condemn fine clothes or good food, but to show how the rich man was so preoccupied with his stomach that he forgot about the empty stomachs of those around him.

This parable is not meant to condemn rich people, but rather to warn them about the danger of self-satisfaction, gross selfishness, and heartless insensitivity. The parable is not meant to say that God reserves his love only for poor people, but to point to the practical fact that poor people, in their helplessness, have a stronger tendency to put their trust in God. Jesus carefully chose the name of the poor man as Lazarus (Eleazar), which means, God has helped. This is to say that while the rich man trusted in his riches the poor man saw God as his help. Notably, God grants his favours, not just to people who are economically poor, but to all people who are poor in spirit (humble spirit) and who put their total trust in him.

The sin of the rich man is simply that of omission. The rich man, (aka Dives), was suffering from the sickness of chronic self-preoccupation, which resulted to the exclusion of God and neighbor. There was no indication that he saw God as the source of his wealth. He was simply insensitive to the plight of the underprivileged under him. His sin was that his neighbor was non-existent and a nonentity. His sin was a heartless indifference. A Yoruba proverb says Lack of money is lack of friends.

Miserable are intelligence, success, wealth, opportunity, privileges, power, health, strength, social status, and rank if these are not used to feed, lift up, empower, enrich and help others who are in need. If our privileges and powers are not put into the service of others, they become like stagnant water that closes itself to itself and which does not flow to bring life and freshness to plants and animals that are in dire thirst for fresh water. An African proverb says greed loses what it has gained.

The rich man sounds like many ‘good Christians’ who do not steal, kill, steal, cheat or gossip, but yet are not interested or committed in helping others or in promoting social justice. Jesus says: “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers/sisters, that you do unto me.” St. Mary of the Cross (Mary Mackillop) , the first Australian canonized saint says: “Do not see a need and do nothing about it.”

The prophet Amos condemns people who are privileged and yet remain self-indulgent, complacent and insensitive to the plight of the needy. Sometimes, we are guilty of giving peanuts to the needy even when we can do more. Why give peanuts to massage your ego when you can commit to giving more to train and empower people. Just like the rich man, we all have a tendency to be selfish and insensitive. We need to pray to God to open our eyes to identify and help the ‘Lazaruses ‘ (the voiceless, the faceless, the powerless, the sick, and aged) who are hardly noticed in our surroundings.

Another important point the parable states is that the rich man died and was buried, and the poor man died and was comforted in heaven. This goes to show the reality of death, judgment, heaven and hell. After death and judgment comes eternal joy or eternal misery. Eternal joy is about a continuous relationship with God and hell is simply everlasting misery, anguish and sorrow. The Gospel of Matthew Chapter 25 clearly describes the nature of God’s judgment and what qualifies people for eternal peace or eternal restlessness.

If indifference is lack of care and concern, then we should make efforts to cultivate the virtue of compassion, where we see ourselves in the people who suffer, the heart-broken, the demoralized, the hungry, and oppressed.

26th Sunday of the Year C; Amos 6:1,4-7; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31

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