September 29, 2013
There was a note from a girl who wrote: “My uncle was the tightest man I’ve ever known. All his life, every time he got paid he took $50 out of his pay cheque and put it under his mattress. One day he got sick and was about to die. As he was dying, he said to his wife, “I want you to promise me one thing.” “Promise what?” she asked. “I want you to promise me that when I am dead, you take my money from under the mattress and put it in my casket so that I can take it with me.” “After weeks, he died and his wife kept her promise. She went in his bedroom, got all the money, went to the bank, deposited it, wrote out a big cheque and put it in his casket!”
What a masterful storyteller Jesus is. In a short parable, “The Rich Man and Lazarus,” Jesus tells us a lot of things regarding our belief. He is a teacher par excellence. There are about forty parables in the Gospels. This is the only one where a principal character has a name. The poor fellow is Lazarus. His poverty does not win him heaven. His name means “God is my help.” His name tells us that he is a person who always trusts in God and that is why he is in heaven. The rich man has no name. Perhaps Jesus intended that we should offer our names to the wealthy individual of the tale. We, Canadians, live in a rich nation with so much natural resources and we constantly ask “God bless our land!” I’m sure God is scratching his head and saying, “But I already have.”
It’s clearly that there is survival after death. Lazarus and the rich man still had their existence after they had died. Secondly, this parable informs us that some of us will live in bliss after our deaths. We shall sit on God’s lap and enjoy all that we might not have in this earthly life. Unfortunately some shall go to the other place called the Hades or hell. There we will find no such things as joy or happiness. We shall sit clutching our heads and weeping and gnashing of teeth (dentures will be provided). Polls show that many people do not buy hell or Satan. Unhappily the Son of God and the Bible refer to punishment and the existence of hell so many times. God does not send us to hell. We dispatch our unhappy selves.
Thirdly, whether we shall fly the executive class on Boeing 777 or as a bum on a freight train depends on our conduct in the here and now. The rich fellow ended up seating excessively in hell not because he was bad. Remember he let Lazarus sit at the front door of his mansion. He permitted him to check out his garbage cans for his food. You and I might well have called the cops and had them haul Lazarus away.
The wealthy man did nothing to help Lazarus. He accepted him as part of his landscape as we consider the poverty belongs to the third world countries. After our deaths, it will be unsatisfactory to say, “God, behold a person who had done nothing wrong.” God will brush that statement aside. We will hear him ask, “Spare me that tired line. Tell me of the good things you have done to your fellows.”
Fourthly, after death our life will forever flash back before us. The millionaire was able to review his life with much remorse. He told himself, “Yes, of course, I should have helped that fellow. I could have given him at least a small portion of my wealth; I could…I could...”
Fifthly, hell and heaven are permanent. They are the last stop. If we end up in hell or in heaven we will stay there forever. We learn this from God’s refusal to send Lazarus down into Hades with a six pack of cold beer for the rich man. Any bottle we get down there will have a hole in the bottom as well as the top.
Finally, God does not intend to take extraordinary means to acquaint us with the rules of the contest. Obviously we will find all the information we need in the Gospels. We learn this from God’s refusal to allow the rich man to fax a message to his five brothers to shape up and fly right.
The rich man was punished because he did not care for other men. Now, you and I probably do not consider ourselves rich. In comparison to our neighbor Bill Gates we are not. All of us together would have only a tiny fraction of his net worth. Still, in comparison to most of the people on the planet we are fabulously wealthy. We enjoy warm clothes and buildings with central heating and air conditioning. Very few people here worry about not getting enough calories. On the contrary, most of us worry about getting too many. And even the person who works for a minimum wage earns more in a day than most people in the world earn in a week. I know that many of our families are in debt and are struggling, but we must also recognize that we have opportunities which others envy. The Blessed John Paul II said "We cannot stand idly by enjoying our own riches and freedom, if, in any place, the Lazarus of the 10th century stands at our doors."