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26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Meeting Lazarus

Lazarus_the_Rich_Man“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”’ (Luke 16:19-26).
This passage from the Gospel of Luke offers a vivid image of the longing that is present in those separated from God for eternity. The rich man is a sinner who has violated, largely by his apathy, the beggar Lazarus—a sign of God’s presence. This reading is a rallying point for what is called the “preferential option for the poor”—putting those who have been denied the necessities of life ahead of those who have plenty and speaking for those who have no one to speak for them.
Many great Catholic saints, canonized and uncanonized, such as St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, and Dorothy Day, were known for their tireless devotion to the poor. This story may seem to be pretty far from our experience—we usually don’t wear fine linen, feast sumptuously, or have a personal gate outside which poor people lie. Maybe we just prefer jeans to fine linen, but still, we have privileges available to us that extend far beyond what most of the world experiences.
Many of the great saints were relatively affluent yet were compelled not to ignore the poor. An heir to a wealthy father, Francis of Assisi left behind all his fine clothing. Mother Teresa, before ministering to the poor in Calcutta, taught at a school for wealthy girls. Dorothy Day, before founding the Catholic Worker for the homeless and poor in New York City, spent much of her time amidst rich and famous writers and artists in Greenwich Village.
Saints are not simply to be held up for our admiration but serve as models of Christian discipleship. Following Christ means identifying with Lazarus, not with the rich man. This is what taking the Gospel seriously implies. These “saints” lived out their service to the poor in very personal and unique ways because it was who they felt God was calling them to be.
– Are you ready to recognize and to respond to the Lazarus in your life?
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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