Thursday, 2nd Week of Lent
Jesus, in today’s gospel parable, talks about a self-indulgent, complacent rich man. Right at his gate is poor, hungry, and suffering Lazarus. But the rich man is utterly unaware even of his presence. Jesus makes it very clear that this situation cries out to God for justice. He describes the divine redress – or how God sets right this unjust situation – in the rest of the story: “When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.” And where did the rich man go? To the netherworld… to hell.
This is divine redress. God is not pleased with this kind of economic inequality and he burns with a passion to set things right. This theme runs through the entire Bible – both old and new testaments – and, God knows, this a troubling message for us to hear. The warning against economic inequality or the theme of divine redress is echoed in the teachings of the Church Fathers.
For example, St John Chrysostom has a powerful sermon on this: “Those who love money are fierce in the pursuit of it – like wild animals pursuing their prey.” “They do not allow the ties of friendship to restrain them; they betray, cheat, or exploit their closest friends when there is gold or silver to be gained.” “They do not let the voice of conscience inhibit them; they learn to make their consciences as numb as the fingers on a cold day.” “Even members of their family may be used in their quest for riches and possessions.” “Their eyes become closed to the suffering they cause; their ears are deaf to the cries of those whose lives are ruined by them.” Those are strong words. And they should shake us!
What is the ground of St. John Chrysostom for saying this? Why does St. John Chrysostom condemn those who love money so much, those who choose material riches over the people they should love, those who take advantage of others for financial gains, those who ignore their consciences, numb their hearts, close their eyes and shut their ears to the situation and plight of the poor, the deprived and the oppressed? The ground or basis is very clear: Everything we have – our life, our body, our breath, our time, our talents, our resources… everything we have is a sheer gift, given to us by a generous God. Our God-given gifts are not to be hoarded for our own purposes. Rather, they must be used for God’s purposes.