Lectio Divina: Luke 16:19-31
Season of Lent
1) Opening prayer
Lord our God,
many of us never had it so good, and
so we have become smug and self-satisfied, happy in our own little world.
God, may our ears remain open to Your word
and our hearts to You
and to our brothers and sisters.
Do not allow us to forget You,
or to place our trust in ourselves.
Make us restless for You
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
2) Gospel Reading - Luke 16:19-31
Jesus said to the Pharisees: "There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.' Abraham replied, 'My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.' He said, 'Then I beg you, father, send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.' But Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.' He said, 'Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' Then Abraham said, 'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.'"
• Every time that Jesus has something important to communicate, He creates a story and tells a parable. In this way, through reflection on an invisible reality, He leads those who listen to Him to discover the invisible call of God, who is present in life. A parable is meant to make us think and reflect. For this reason it is important to pay attention to even the smallest details. In the parable in today’s Gospel there are three persons: the poor Lazarus, the rich man without a name, and Father Abraham. In the parable, Abraham represents the thought of God. The rich man without a name represents the dominating ideology of that time. Lazarus represents the silent cry of the poor in the time of Jesus and in all times.
• Luke 16:19-21: The situation of the rich man and the poor man. The two extremes of society. On the one side, aggressive richness; on the other, the poor man without resources, without rights, covered with wounds, without anybody to accept him, to receive him, except the dogs which came to lick his wounds. What separates both of them is the closed door of the rich man’s house. For the rich man, there is no acceptance nor pity concerning the poor man at his door. But the poor man has a name; the rich man does not. That is, the poor man has his name written in the book of life, not the rich one. The poor man’s name is Lazarus. It means God helps. And through the poor man, God helps the rich man who could have a name in the book of life. But the rich man does not allow himself to be helped by the poor man, because he keeps his door closed. The beginning of this parable is a faithful mirror of what was happening during the time of Jesus and the time of Luke. It is a mirror of everything that is happening today in the world!
• Luke 16:22: The change which reveals the hidden truth. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels into Abraham’s embrace. The rich man also died and was buried. In the parable the poor man dies before the rich one. This is a warning for the rich. During the time when the poor man is alive and at the door, there is still the possibility of salvation for the rich man. But when the poor man dies, the only instrument of salvation for the rich man also dies. Now, the poor man is in Abraham’s embrace. The embrace of Abraham is the source of life, where the people of God were born. Lazarus, the poor man, is part of the people of Abraham, from which he was excluded when he was before the rich man’s door. The rich man, who believes that he is a son of Abraham, does not go toward Abraham’s embrace! The introduction to the parable ends here. Now its significance begins to be revealed, through the three conversations between the rich man and Father Abraham.
• Luke 16:23-26: The first conversation. In the parable, Jesus opens a window on the other side of life, the side of God. It is not a question of Heaven. It is a question of the life which only faith generates and which the rich man, who has no faith, cannot see. It is only in the light of death that this ideology disintegrates; then appears as what the true value of life is. On the part of God, without the deceptive thinking of the ideology, things change. The rich man sees Lazarus in the arms of Abraham and asks to be helped in his suffering. The rich man discovers that Lazarus is his only possible benefactor. But now it is too late! The nameless rich man is pious, because he recognizes Abraham and calls him Father. Abraham responds and calls him son. In reality, this word of Abraham is addressed to all the rich who are alive. In so far as they are alive, they have the possibility of becoming sons and daughters of Abraham if they know how to open the door to Lazarus, the poor man, the only one who in God’s name can help them. Salvation for the rich man does not consist in Lazarus giving him a drop of fresh water to refresh his tongue, but rather, that he, the rich man, open the closed door to the poor man so as fill the great abyss that exists.
• Luke 16:27-29: The second conversation. The rich man insists: “Then, Father, I beg you to send Lazarus to my father’s house, because I have five brothers!” The rich man does not want his brothers to end in this place of suffering. Lazarus, the poor man, is the only true intermediary between God and the rich. He is the only one, because it is only to the poor that the rich have to return what they had and, thus, re-establish the justice which has been damaged! The rich man is worried for his brothers, but was never concerned about the poor! Abraham’s response is clear: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them!” They have the Bible! The rich man had the Bible. He knew it by heart. But he was never aware that the Bible had something to do with the poor. The rich man’s key to understanding the Bible is the poor man sitting at his door!
• Luke 16:30-31: The third conversation. “No, Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent!” The rich man recognizes that he is wrong, he has committed an error, because he speaks of repenting, something which he never heard during his life. He wants a miracle, a resurrection! But this type of resurrection does not exist. The only resurrection is that of Jesus. Jesus, risen from the dead comes to us in the person of the poor, of those who have no rights, of those who have no land, of those who have no food, of those who have no house, of those who have no health. In his final response, Abraham is clear and convincing: “If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead!” The conversation ends this way and is the end of the parable!
• The key to understanding the sense of the Bible is the poor Lazarus, sitting before the door! God presents Himself in the person of the poor, sitting at our door, to help us cross the enormous abyss which the rich have created. Lazarus is also Jesus, the poor and servant Messiah, who was not accepted, but whose death changed all things radically. And everything changes in the light of the death of the poor. The place of torment, of torture, is the situation of the person without God. Even if the rich man thinks that he has religion and faith, in fact, he is not with God, because he does not open the door to the poor, as Zacchaeus did (Lk 19:1-10).
4) Personal questions
• How do we treat the poor? Do they have a name? In my attitude toward them, am I like Lazarus or like the rich man?
• When the poor come in contact with me, do they hear the Good News?
• Who do I consider are the poor? There are many kinds of poverty. Identifying these kinds of poverty should cause us to expand who we help, rather than limit us to “giving a donation” and not becoming personally involved.
5) Concluding Prayer
How blessed is anyone who rejects the advice of the wicked
and does not take a stand in the path that sinners tread,
nor a seat in company with cynics,
but who delights in the law of Yahweh
and meditates on His law day and night. (Ps 1:1-2)