On the Great Reversal
(Am.6:1a,4-7; 1Tim.6:11-16; Lk.16:19-31)
In today’s parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the rich man is enjoying life with fine food, expensive clothes and a beautiful home. And outside his gate is poor, sick Lazarus, hungry and covered with sores.
At one level the story is simple – surely Dives [i] could have offered Lazarus a crust of bread. But at a deeper level, this story isn’t just about the rich helping the poor. It’s much more than that.
In the second half of the story, both men die and their roles are reversed. The rich man is shocked to find himself suffering in hell. And Lazarus is delighted to find himself in heaven, with Abraham.
Jo Fiore, our parish poet laureate, has kindly penned this poem for us:
A rich man lived a privileged life of opulence and greed.
His eyes were blind, his ears were deaf, to everyone in need.
And at his gate a poor man lay and begged for food each day,
but the rich man kept his distance and looked the other way.
The beggar’s name was Lazarus; he suffered grief and pain,
but through it all he kept his faith and blessed God’s holy name.
‘Have mercy! Spare a scrap of bread’ old Lazarus would say,
but the rich man chose to eat his fill, and look the other way.
When both men died the rich man found with great despair that he
would be cursed with fire and torment, for all eternity.
And in the gleaming distance through his stinging eyes he saw
both Lazarus and Abraham – their faces filled with awe.
‘Have mercy, Father Abraham. Send Lazarus I pray
with a single drop of water! Quench my thirst this wretched day!’
But Abraham replied ‘Alas! Our worlds apart must stay,
and we must keep our distance’. Then he turned his head away.
‘But wait! I have five brothers and if someone from the dead
were to warn them, they would change their ways and never share my dread.’
Said Abraham, ‘They have the Law, but if they choose to stray,
not even someone from the dead could change their evil way’.
When Jesus told this parable, He taught us that we need
to turn our backs on evil things like selfishness and greed.
With open eyes and open ears and open hearts we can
reach out and have compassion, for our needy fellow man.
In this parable, Jesus isn’t condemning the rich man for his wealth. Rather, the issue is that he’s so self-obsessed that he doesn’t even notice the suffering of others. Do you know people like that?
In our first reading today, the prophet Amos paints a picture of the ‘wrong life’, where people sit around being lazy, selfish and complacent, and eating too much. He reminds us that such a life is self-destructive, and that God calls us to do something more with our lives.
And in our second reading, St Paul tells Timothy about the ‘right life’, where people are righteous, faithful, loving, patient and gentle. He says we should grab these gifts of eternal life now, while we can, because the ‘Kingdom of God is at hand’ (Mk.1:15). It’s foolish to wait, he says, because we just don’t know how long we’ve got. Tomorrow might be too late.
And what happens when it’s too late? That’s when we discover that the tables have been turned. That’s when the first find themselves last, and the last find themselves first (Lk.13:30). That’s when those who ‘had it all’ are left with nothing, while those with nothing are given the keys to the kingdom (Lk.6:20-26; Lk.14:11).
We see this in the stories of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Lk.1:46-55), Zacchaeus (Lk.19:1-10), and the Prodigal Son (Lk.15:1-32). We see this in the washing of the feet (Jn.13:1-17) and in the glorious resurrection of Jesus the humble carpenter.
This is what’s known as ‘The Great Reversal’, and it horrifies the Rich Man in today’s parable. His problem is that the rules of this world don’t apply in heaven. He shouldn’t have been surprised, however. We know that God’s ways aren’t our ways (Is.55:8-9). In God’s kingdom, the lowly are lifted, the hungry are filled, the high and mighty are torn down and the proud are scattered (Lk.1:51-54; 1Sam.2: 1,4-5,7-8).
Are you prepared for The Great Reversal? If not, there’s no time to waste.
Take a look around: who is Lazarus waiting at your gate? Who are the poor you’ll see today? They might not be materially poor, but they could be poor in friendship, poor in health, poor in hope, poor in joy ….
out to them. Welcome them in.
[i] St Jerome in the fourth century called the rich man ‘Dives’. It simply means ‘rich man’ in Latin.