On Being Lazarus

In an earlier post on the Dives and Lazarus story (Rich and Poor and Purity of Heart), I made the point that wealth is not condemned nor is poverty commended as such. There is much more about attitudes than there is about possessions. After all, there is a kind of poverty that has nothing holy about it, just as there is a kind of wealth that has nothing evil about it. It is what we do with either, the way in which we are rich or poor, that counts.

Interestingly, churchgoers tend to take sides, as it were, identifying with the poor but godly Lazarus who, typically of the truly poor, never speaks for himself but is spoken for by Abraham and Dives. It is worth thinking about that for a moment. Dives has a voice; Lazarus doesn’t. Dives’ overwhelming sense of entitlement leads him to ‘explain’ to Abraham how Lazarus can be of service to him and his brothers, but it is Abraham who rebukes him, not Lazarus. Is there something here to ponder?

You will have noticed, I’m sure, how many disputes boil down to have/have not antagonisms and the resultant envy and absurdity that often follows. Having more than another doesn’t confer any special rights on the one who has more, nor does it mean that the one who has less is in any way morally superior to the other, but how often do we confuse the two. We forget about obligations or duty as we rush to assert our rights. We think we are Lazarus while all the time we are behaving like Dives. The noisier we are, the more we convince ourselves we are championing the poor. Maybe. Maybe not. We are certainly falling into the trap of thinking of the poor as people different from ourselves, to whom we do good rather than people exactly like ourselves with whom we share.

Perhaps this Lent we could spend a few minutes thinking about our attitudes to the poor — not to poverty, for that is an abstraction, but to the poor, for they have a human and individual face. If our almsgiving is to mean anything more than giving a little from our excess, it must take account of that fact; but it also means that, in an important sense, we have to become Lazarus ourselves. What might that mean for you and me?


3 thoughts on “On Being Lazarus”

  1. Something to ponder and think about in a new way. I have always felt the divsiveness brought about by many which didn’t seem right but now I have an explanation and new way of thinking about what I can do. I will think more carefully and be more prayful when giving thinking of the receiver and my intentions when giving.

  2. Dear Sister, you pose a thoughtful and challenging question—how do we become more like Lazarus rather than thinking of the poor, or being poor, as an abstraction. Might one start by meditating on the times we have been emotionally, physically or spiritually depleted? Isn’t that a type of poverty? Or should we contemplate on what it would mean if Jesus asked us to give up our riches and follow him, as he did the rich young man? Yet, as you remind us, poverty is not necessarily holy, nor wealth evil. Let us pray that we be good stewards of our riches and have the grace and courage to confront poverty and relieve poverty.

  3. Coming from a poor family, where our father was out of work for several years due to an injury incurred at work and having to go, often weekly to the National Assistance Office (in those days) to explain why he needed help, only to be told to sell something, I have a quite jaundiced view of those who distribute benefits to those in need, particularly these days, when political pressure and punitive measure are placed on those who sometimes through no fault of their own make a mistake or unable to make an employment meeting or interview.

    I can remember being clothed from second hand shops for clothes, there was a huge one in Bethnal Green Road, which had a busy clientelle, I never had anything new until I eventually left school and earned money to buy things for my self. I remember going hungry often, and our father not eating at all for days at a time.

    I had thought that those days were long gone, but the situation today in terms of child poverty seems equally bad as my childhood or even worse. I have been fortunate that I joined the Army at 17 and was permanently employed by them until age 60, with a successful career and a secure pension. I give to charity particularly those supporting child poverty today, both in the UK and abroad.

    Our parish actively supports Christian debt solution charities and food banks, situations which were almost unimaginable in the more affluent decades before now – now, we even have people in work, whose children go hungry – in the main, a situation created deliberately by political priorities which reward the affluent and seek to demonize those who they consider to be of less value than themselves.

    I don’t see myself either as Lazarus or Dives in this story, just someone who lived one life in the past, who through God’s grace has been fortunate enough to now be secure, but aware of that good fortune and wishing to share it when and when I am able. I’m not sure of what Abraham would make of that journey, but his faith in and belief in God has lessons for us all. Risk taker and faithful servant.

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