(Luke 16:19-31) In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus. The rich man – who is not given a name – lives a very comfortable life. He has expensive clothes and eats extremely well; perhaps he loves to entertain and is even very generous with his friends. But just outside his door lies a sick and starving man named Lazarus, a pauper who ultimately dies without receiving any help from him at all.1 There is no indication that the rich man wilfully ignored Lazarus; perhaps he was just too busy and didn’t notice. But it’s a shocking story, and it would be easy to think that it has nothing to do with us. After all, there is no one sleeping on the pavement outside our door, and if there were, we would surely do something about it, right?
Consider the following statistics. Canada is ranked among one of the most desirable countries in the world in which to live today. However, at least 10% of Canadians are living in poverty. According to a recent report, Canada ranked only 15th out of 17 countries on both child poverty and working-age adult poverty indicators.2 The reality is that many of our poor – just like Lazarus – are invisible to us. They work at minimum-wage jobs, they go to bed hungry, and they live in cramped quarters in houses that ought to be condemned.3 It is easy to become complacent – to assume that the many government and charitable agencies are meeting their needs. But serving the poor must go beyond satisfying minimal requirements.
A few years back, when our daughter volunteered at the Food Bank, she was given the opportunity to take part in a food hamper program to help her understand the needs of clients. For a period of a week, she was only allowed to eat what was provided to her. To someone on a limited grocery budget, it sounded like a great deal, but she was surprised by how difficult it actually was. It wasn’t that she didn’t have enough to eat, but she really struggled with the lack of variety and access to fresh produce. She couldn’t pop into the nearest grocery store for snacks or help herself to whatever she wanted from the fridge or cupboard whenever she was hungry. It was a stark reminder of the daily suffering of the many poor who live – invisibly – among us.
Jesus was not condemning rich people in this parable; He was condemning how we use our riches. We ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?” He responds, “As you did it to one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me.”4 When you step out your door today, look a little closer. You may just find that Lazarus is reclining at your gate.
– Sharon van der Sloot
It is the real presence of Christ in the poor man, when this is really believed and the poor man is known as a person, that can transform the encounter with him from a purely “social problem” into something essentially and authentically Christian. The poor must not be someone who is tolerated and put up with, but someone who is waited for and expected.5 Servant of God Madeleine Delbrêl
PHOTO: Aaron Lynett/National Post
1 This is the only parable in the Bible in which one of the people is named. In Hebrew, Lazarus means “God comes to help.”
2 “Canada’s social score dragged down by poverty, inequality: Conference Board of Canada,” Feb. 4, 2013, Financial Post [newspaper online]; available from http://business.financialpost.com/2013/02/04/canadas-social-score-dragged-down-by-poverty-inequality-conference-board-of-canada/; Internet; accessed 9 September 2013. Denmark had the highest social score, followed by Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Austria.
3 “Hunger Count 2012,” available from http://foodbankscanada.ca/getmedia/3b946e67-fbe2-490e-90dc-4a313dfb97e5/HungerCount2012.pdf.aspx; Internet; accessed 9 September 2013. In March 2012, 882,188 people asked for assistance from the Canada Food Bank. Of that number, 49% of the households were families with children, and nearly half of those households were two-parent families. In Alberta, 53,512 asked for help; 44.1% were children.
4 Cf. Matthew 25:37-40.
5 Madeleine Delbrêl, The Joy of Believing, trans. Ralph Wright, O.S.B. (Sherbrooke, QC: Éditions Médiaspaul, 1993). Quoted in Magnificat, September 2013, 395.