Rich and Poor and Purity of Heart

As we draw closer to the General Election, politicians of every stripe are anxious to be seen as good guys. Unfortunately, that often seems to mean bandying around claims and counter-claims about poverty and wealth which foster division and envy. We do not have to hate the rich in order to be concerned about the poor. We do not have to despise the poor in order to desire a prosperous society. Dives and Lazarus in today’s gospel (Luke 16.19–31) are not to be interpreted in black and white terms. Wealth is not condemned nor is poverty commended as such. Dives is in agony because during his life on earth he failed to be charitable, not because he was rich. Lazarus enjoys bliss because he was patient in adversity and never railed against God, not because he was poor.

Very often at the monastery we are invited to support some good cause or other, and we have learned to be wary. Sometimes the cause isn’t good; sometimes it is presented in a way that makes us uneasy. It is possible to do an ostensibly good deed in a way that leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Bitterness, envy, hatred, jealousy — these are not Christian values but they can be the wellspring of our actions. St Benedict borrows a verse of the psalmist to remind us to be on our guard about our own motives: ‘my every desire is before you,’ he says, and that includes those we prefer not to acknowledge. It would be a useful Lenten exercise to spend a few minutes thinking prayerfully about the things that matter to us and, without becoming tied up in knots about it, scrutinising our own intentions. A pure heart is only attained through constant watchfulness.


8 thoughts on “Rich and Poor and Purity of Heart”

  1. Very thoughtful article, today, Dame Catherine.
    This parable has always troubled me until now. Thanks to you I can see what Jesus was saying and the meaning beyond just concentrating on the difference between rich and poor. It is indeed a wake up call to us all. Thank you so much.

  2. I think this is very true. We do need to look into our hearts when we get v worked up and make sure we are not allowing such negative associations. You rightly highlight the wrath that can be associated with Envy, and I have found it uncomfortable to see causes I believe in attached to hate- filled invective. However, the political debate seems to be focusing solely on ‘the politics of envy’ and the phrase keeps being misused when ever anyone points out unjust banker’s bonuses, or the problem with zero hours contracts, or housing shortages. I think it is very important for us to be careful to avoid the politics of Envy and Wrath, but there are seven, not two deadly sins, so I would also like us to encourage the debate to include warnings against the Politics of Lust and Sloth, Pride, Greed, and Gluttony. These sins seem to me to be just as much to be avoided and are the cause of so much misery in our society- and are somehow never mentioned by those who speak against Envy. We have a shocking amount of political donations coming from media moguls who made their money through porn, we have greed beyond imagination, and sloth in the face of others suffering, we have food banks for some and increasingly lavish banquets for others, and we have a sense that some people are rich because of inherent self worth rather than good fortune. So I would agree with this post, but let’s extend the warnings, lest some politicians use focusing on two to become an excuse to ignore and even indulge the other five.

  3. I was struck by the comment from St. Ambrose in the Catena Aurea for this morning’s Gospel: “But not all poverty is holy, or all riches criminal, but as luxury disgraces riches, so does holiness commend poverty”.

  4. Interesting that the parable makes no mention of Lazarus’s piety. I think the story is really about privilege, whichever way you look at that, whether it is wealth, prosperity, opportunities, education, your status in life, including living in religious life. With privilege comes responsibility, and it is not to be taken for granted. We all have someone at our gate.

  5. We had that reading this morning at Holy Communion.

    The sermon tied it in with our Lent Course, which is about combating poverty, it was appropriate to consider our own motives when we compare rich and poor, particularly where policies of government might be considered to be causing divisions between particular groups within our society.

    In particular we need to be considerate of others, particularly as the depiction of Lazarus from Greek means ‘God is my help’.

    Our Vicar presented the story in context and we’re now challenged to think about our own attitudes to both rich and poor and our actions with regard to both.

    Interesting times we live in.

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