So let’s get to the heart of the matter. Will you go to hell just because you are rich? This seems to be the only ‘fault’ of Dives in Luke 16:25. Incidentally, Dives, which means ‘rich’ in Latin, is a name given to him traditionally. So while Dives is faulted because he is rich, Lazarus, which ironically means ‘God has helped’ and perhaps the only name that Jesus gives to anyone in the parables, is in heaven merely because he is wretched, starving and a sore covered pauper. This seems to be so odd balled, to say the least!
Let us understand the mind of Luke who is our gospel writer. Luke’s gospel has an unabashed ‘option for the poor’ and a condemnation for the love for money, plastered all over it; from the widow’s coin and the inheritance of the Prodigal son in chapter 15, to the dishonest manager’s handling of debts. In the Sermon on the Plain, it is the poor who are given the Kingdom of God with a warning to the rich and to those whose bellies are full (6: 24-25) The mandate of Christ is “to bring good news to the poor” (4:18; also 7:22). And then there are the warnings to us; who do we invite to our parties? Are they “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind (14:13)? “
But it is also the ‘who’ and not only the ‘what’ that was at the heart of Luke’s relentless target. The answer lies in verse 14 which inaugurates this parable. Through it, Luke’s characterizes the Pharisees as “lovers of money” (16:14) and in doing this, he used a common means of denigrating their character. Jesus held back no punches. “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others: but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God (Luke 16:15).
What is Jesus’ point? It’s all about the gate that divided them (verse 20). The Greek translation of verse 20, which in English is read as ‘Lazarus laid there’ really should read as Lazarus was “thrown” or “dumped” there; affording the rich man an opportunity to intervene; WHICH HE DID NOT. Get the point? Pope Francis (whom I now quote extensively) dedicated the Lenten message of this year to precisely this parable and this thought. In describing the “corruption on sin”, Pope Francis speaks of its progression in three successive stages: love of money, vanity and pride.
Get this right, while God has a preferential love for the poor, He does not condemn wealth in itself. In 1 Timothy 6:10, Paul categorically states, “the love of money is the root of all evil”. ‘When money begins to ‘dominate us and becomes a tyrannical idol instead of being an instrument at our service for doing good, then money can chain us to a selfish logic that leaves no room for love’ (Pope Francis).
Make no mistake, Dives is in hell because he was lost in his wealth, a wealth that depraved him to the ‘lowest rung of this moral degradation; pride.’ ‘The rich man dresses like a king and acts like a god, forgetting he is mortal. He is dressed in purple which not only was more precious than silver and gold but was reserved to divinities. Pope Francis says, “For those corrupted by love of riches, nothing exists beyond their own ego.”
To the rich young ruler who asks Jesus, “how can I inherit eternal life”, the answer is plain, “sell all you have and distribute the money to the poor.” Why then is there sadness in the life of the young man who has just received the blue print to heaven? The answer is simple; It’s his attachment to his wealth. Jesus is clear, if they are attached to their wealth, the rich will tend to have more difficulty entering the kingdom of God (18:18-30). And so Luke adds several layers of caution using parable after parable; don’t lay treasure in your barns but store treasure in heaven or else the consequences are irreversible, as in the case of Dives in hell.
The gospel of today is an invitation to tear down the gate that divides the Lazarus’ from the Dives’. This will help us to bridge the chasm in heaven. God blesses us with wealth so that we share it; not just count the coins when we give it. It is also about selling possessions and distributing wealth to the poor (12:33; 18:22) especially when we have received God’s mercy in our lives like Zacchaeus who gives half of his possessions to the poor and repays anyone he has defrauded four times as much (19:1-10).
Famously, the rich man never does get it. He understands the message about wealth and the poor, but he approaches Abraham as if Abraham were his peer. Lazarus remains an inferior who can be ‘sent’ to comfort the rich man or to preach to his ancestors.
Stick your head out of your cell phone, look around and seek a Lazarus. Our mobile phones are preventing us from seeing the Lazarus’ on the streets today, more than ever. Look for the gates that divide us and tear them down.
Fr Warner D’souza
Dedicated to my parishioners of St Jude, who being poor are rich.
With direct references from: The Word is a gift, other persons are a gift” – Pope Francis
And inspiration and quotes from Greg Carey, Lois Malcolm and Carl Jacobson
Spread the love ♥