THEME: Lessons from the Story of a Rich Man and a Poor

BY: Fr. Anthony O. Ezeaputa, MA.



Our Gospel reading (Luke 16:19-31) is the story of a rich man and Lazarus, a poor man. The rich man wore purple robes and fine linen, which were exclusively worn by the wealthy in ancient times. Every day, he ate lavishly. On the contrary, Lazarus was clad in rags and covered in sores. Lazarus was so poor that he reasoned that if he begged at the rich man’s door, he would notice him and help him, even if it meant eating the crumbs that fell from his table.

However, the rich man overlooked him. Perhaps the rich man felt he had no obligation to feed him. Eventually, both of them died. The poor man was carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom, which symbolizes heaven, whereas the rich man went to the netherworld, where he was tormented by flames, which is hell.

First off, the experience of Lazarus in the hands of this rich man is not a generalization about riches and the rich. There are so many caring and generous rich people. Also, the story does not imply that it is impossible for wealthy people to enter heaven. There are so many rich people who are heaven, too.

Sts. Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin, parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, were successful watchmakers and lacemakers. St. Thomas Becket had enormous wealth. St. Katherine Drexel was born into wealth and status.

Also, Abraham (Genesis 13:2), Jacob (Genesis 30:43), Matthew (Luke 5:27–29), Joanna (Luke 8:3), Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57), and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:8) were wealthy biblical figures (Acts 16:14–15).

These saints and biblical figures reveal that wealth is not a ticket to hell or eternal damnation. Riches are to be used to serve God.

Yet, the Bible says, “And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23–24).

Riches can become idol and give a false sense of security. Additionally, it has a way of convincing some people to think that they are rich because they are so smart and hardworking. And those who are not blessed with riches like them are dumb and lazy. Because of this, they think they don’t place their trust in God but think that they have become gods. Also, they become condescending, judgmental, and don’t care about the poor.

1 John 3:17 says, “If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?” The rich man in the story was insensitive to poor Lazarus. He was so indifferent that he was not moved to compassion towards the plight of Lazarus and that landed him in eternal damnation.

Additionally, the story of the rich man and the poor Lazarus reminds us that we can even sin by avoiding what we ought to do. This is known as the sin of omission in the Catholic theological tradition. But a person doesn’t commit the sin of omission just because he or she doesn’t do anything. The person must know what he or she should do but refuses to act when he or she can and should act; he or she must be in the right circumstances to act; and the virtue and commandment that his or her omission violates are grave.

The rich man sinned by “omission” because he was fully aware of Lazarus’s situation; he was able to help Lazarus, even if it meant allowing him to feed from the crumbs that fell from his table, but he refused to help him. His failure to help Lazarus is grave because it goes against the commandment to love his neighbor as himself (Leviticus 19:9-10).

Also, this story is scriptural proof that both heaven and hell exist. Unfortunately, many of us do not want to be reminded of dreadful topics such as death, heaven, purgatory, and hell. Yet, the Bible is clear, unequivocally, that everyone who has ever lived will spend eternity in either heaven or hell.

“Heaven” is a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity. At death, those who have welcomed God into their lives and have sincerely opened themselves to his love will enjoy that fullness of communion with God, which is the goal of human life. Heaven is, therefore, the fullness of communion with God.

“Hell” is the ultimate consequence of sin itself and the state of those who freely and definitively reject and separate themselves from God. It is precisely this tragic situation that Christian doctrine refers to as eternal damnation, or hell. It’s a result of the choices people made while they were in this world and not a punishment from God.

“Purgatory” is a state of purification that exists after death. Those in this state of purification are already in the love of Christ, who removes from them the remnants of imperfection.

However, the state of purification is not another chance to change our fate after we die. In the same way that we are united in the church while we are alive, those in purgatory continue to enjoy that same ecclesial solidarity after they die, especially when Masses, prayers, or other acts of piety are offered for them by their other brothers and sisters in the faith.

Finally, the story of the rich man and Lazarus tells us that God’s blessings must be shared with everyone, especially the poor, rather than only with our friends and family. It warns us not to be indifferent to the plight of the poor in the same way that the rich man was. God loves the poor and wants us to take care of them. In fact, those who show mercy to the poor are, in effect, ministering to Christ personally (Matthew 25:35-40).

Let us pray that God may open our eyes to see him in the poor and suffering and help them because of him. Have a happy Sunday!

Fr. Anthony O. Ezeaputa, MA.
Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 25, 2022

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