The parables of Jesus tend to sound a bit extreme. Our Lord likes to use stories to get his message across to us and to help us remember them, he likes to shock us a little.
Such is the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, memorable and full o vivid details. Our heart goes out to the poor beggar; we want to hiss and boo the rich man. By the time we reach the end of the story, we’re glad to hear that the poor man is in bliss and that the rich man received his just deserts. But right as we’re feeling virtuously satisfied with the outcome, Jesus hits us with the moral of the story to drive it home. If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.
Someone has risen from the dead, of course! So how many people have been persuaded? Do I even behave as if I’ve been persuaded? It really isn’t a hard point to grasp, but we rationalize. For example, I can’t give to every beggar I meet. We try to contribute to the Church and to some reputable charities, but we have other obligations to meet. Do I think that Jesus doesn’t know this? Any literal interpretation of this parable, painted in such broad strokes, is hardly Jesus’ intention.
What does Jesus intend? Jesus intends for me to examine my own intentions, to examine what are my heart’s dispositions. There are various ways to encounter beggars throughout the day and it’s not always about money. Does a person need a smile of recognition? Or an encouraging word? A listening heart? Time can be more valuable than money to me, especially if I don’t have much time to spare. Feeling that someone cares about me can be more valuable to someone in need than an impersonal hand-out.
Jesus told his followers to listen to Moses and the prophets but haven’t we something greater than the prophets? How much do we value God’s gift to us? Or are we, too, demanding signs and wonders before we would set aside our interests and listen to some else’s needs?
Elsewhere in the Gospels we are told that every poor person is Jesus Christ himself. I was hungry and you fed me; but also, I was hungry and you fed me not. I was sick and you cared for me; I was sick and you did not care for me. What do we see in the world around us? Even if someone should rise from the dead, will we be persuaded?
You, man of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness, Saint Paul exhorted Timothy. And the prophet Amos warns us, Thus say the Lord, the God of Hosts: “Woe to the complacent in Zion!” And Jesus solemnly declared to his disciples, I have given you an example for you to do as I have done to you.