Poverty and wealth, the poor and rich

healerLuke 16:19-31

The reflection on poverty and wealth and the poor and rich should not leave anyone indifferent. No one among us can say, “This does not apply to me, there are wealthier and more selfish people than myself in this world.” Even if this were true, there are definitely people who are poorer than any one of us, who are in need of our help. This is the reason I say that the theme from today’s gospel reading should leave none of us feeling indifferent.

In this story we are shown two extremes; a proud, rich man and his antithesis, the beggar Lazarus. While the former, whose name the Evangelist does not even mention, dressed in purple and fine linen, the latter lay at the rich man’s gate covered with sores, “desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table.” (Luke 16:21) Read chapter 16 of Luke’s gospel and you will learn all about this parable.

I may be mistaken, but I do want to believe that among us there are no such individuals as this ruthless rich man.

Wealth, dear brothers and sisters, is a great temptation and, to an even greater degree, a punishment. It is a temptation because it puts the wealthy individual before a choice to either fully give himself over to the pleasures of a life lived in wealth, or use this wealth to do good and give one’s life a Christian meaning. The ones that give in to a life of pleasure and wealth are punished by becoming enslaved to their own wealth and by worrying night and day how to preserve it and increase it. Many times, the increasing of wealth is, as we all know, connected with actions that are not in sync with Christian morality and human conscience. An individual whose conscience is not calm cannot be happy.

After the death of one of the wealthiest individuals of our times we were able to read in the papers a lament of his own life as written by a journalist to whom this wealthy man confessed his woes. Of his own life, the wealthy individual says that it was unhappy and wretched. The problem was that he was not able to make moves in a timely fashion that would give his life meaning. It is a sad fact that other rich individuals do not wish to learn from his story. They continue on their paths. Sadly, we know the outcome of their journey.

Wealth often turns into its antipode. There are many examples of rich individuals, even in our community. Powerful and influential, they chose not to think about the times ahead but rather fenced themselves into their wealth, thinking that they needed no one and that they were quite self-sufficient. Life passed them by and they found themselves alone. It was difficult for them to return to the flow of life. Had they been more generous in better times, there would have been no shortage of helping hands to assist them…

Solidarity is a word we use all too often, yet we hardly ever act upon it. Many words, little action. We forget most of the time that by helping others we help ourselves. Selfishness is both a sin and a punishment. Egoists are to be condemned but also pitied. I found an example of this in a story in the most recent issue of the “St. Sava’s Bell” magazine. A certain priest prayed to God asking to be allowed to see heaven and hell. First they went into a room where there were many people sitting around a richly set table. One would expect them to be very happy and satisfied, but they were desperate. The forks that they were holding in their hands were too long so they were not able to reach into their plates to eat nor were they able to put the forks into their mouths to eat. They were terribly hungry and therefore desperate. “This is hell,” said God. In another room they saw other people also seated around a table set with all kinds of delicacies but their faces reflected happiness and satisfaction. They, too, held the same long forks in their hands, but they were all well fed. At first the priest did not understand what was going on. Then God said, “These people are feeding one another with their long forks.”

Living in a community with others, understanding their cares and worries, helping one another, all this is a great skill in life. We reach Heaven through our life on earth, in the company of others, never alone and always through active love towards our fellow men. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20) it is said in the Holy Scripture.

Let us reflect, brothers and sisters, on what we have just heard. May selfishness always be far away from us. May we always live unselfishly with our fellow men so that we may be made worthy of the kingdom of heaven. Amen.

Belgrade, October 25, 1980.