Wed, September 21, 202210 mins readFather Hans Buob

26th Sunday

Biblical Homilies on the Sunday Gospels in Reading Year C

Interior of a Palace with Elegant Figures Dining. Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, by Bartholomeus van Bassen.

Bible passages


Luke 16:19-31

"There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.' Abraham replied, 'My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you, a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.' He said, 'Then I beg you, father, send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.' But Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.' He said, 'Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' Then Abraham said, 'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.'"

Biblical Homilies


There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. (cf. verse 19-23)

This parable has a very profound meaning. However, it should not be applied in a purely mechanical way, in the sense that every poor person, regardless of his or her way of thinking and living, automatically goes to heaven and, conversely, every rich person automatically goes to hell. This is not the meaning of the parable.

The poor man, who is described as sick, poor in every respect, and completely at the mercy of the rich man, is - literally translated from the Greek - "thrown before the house of the rich man", i.e. set aside in the hope that the rich man will already give him something. So he could no longer help himself. He couldn't even stand on his own feet. They literally got rid of him, they "threw him away". And when he died, "he was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom". For the rich man, on the other hand, it says very briefly: "He was buried". This is the decisive difference and contrast: for the poor man, death was the end of his suffering, and for the rich man, the end of his earthly happiness.

And he cried out, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.' Abraham replied, 'My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you, a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.' (cf. verse 24-26)

When the rich man looks up, sees Abraham and Lazarus in his lap and asks for help, Abraham says: "Even if we wanted to, this gap can no longer be crossed. This is a very clear statement by Jesus about the definitive, about the gap between heaven and hell.

The fact that Abraham addresses the rich man as a "child" is nevertheless an expression of great compassion. Heaven will always have compassion. It will never hate, not even those who hate it, that is, the - as we say - damned. This is so wonderfully expressed in this passage. But the fact remains that the statement is very clear: there is no longer any going back and forth between heaven and hell.

The rich man persisted in unrepentant unbelief during his lifetime. He was literally blind to this poor and weak person, i.e. deaf to the teaching, to the message of Jesus about salvation, which takes shape in love of neighbour. He did not curse the poor man or spit on him, he simply ignored him. He was so blinded by his possessions that he did not see what Jesus' message demanded, the love of neighbour that lay, so to speak, at his door.

This statement of the parable is quite decisive: attachment to money and possessions, material possessions but also spiritual possessions such as honour, a good name, wanting to be known, etc., makes one deaf to Jesus' message of salvation. This is an experience that people have always had in Christianity. How often do believers - when they suddenly acquire wealth, be it external goods or reputation and power - suddenly depart from the truth, suddenly want to be something on their own and proclaim their own opinion - even if it is contrary to the commandment of God and consists of heresies. The greedy attachment to selfish values deafens the message of salvation and automatically leads to pride. People who allow themselves to be guided by this attitude want to be like God and think they know everything better than He does. This is a very great danger that each of us experiences in our own lives. None of us is safe from it. And we don't have to be millionaires to do this. If we become even slightly attached to something worldly, if we become really attached to it, we soon notice that we become deaf to the message of salvation.

But on the other hand, we should not conclude: "Yes, we must become poor again, and we will return to the faith". This is certainly not the way of faith: to become poor and then cry out to God again for help. The way of faith is rather a way of love, regardless of what we have.

He said, 'Then I beg you, father, send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.' But Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.' He said, 'Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' Then Abraham said, 'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead. (cf. verse 27-31)

Then comes this marvellous request from the rich man: I have five more brothers. Abraham, send Lazarus to them, so that they may be converted and not go to where I am. These five brothers - it is very clear here, since they must be converted - are just as unrepentant as the rich man. Like him, they persist in unbelief. Their momentary possessions are enough for them and they do not think at all about the real meaning of life.

In Abraham's answer to the rich man's request: "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets", it is clear that if they do not listen to the word of God, they will not repent nor believe "if someone rises from the dead". We do not find God and faith through miracles or other extraordinary events, but only in the power of the Word of God. It is through the power of the food that is the Word of God that we become able to believe, for this Word of God is power and life. It produces in us what it says. That is why such an important form of evangelisation is to discreetly offer a Scripture to a person who may be weak in faith or who has not yet found faith, when the opportunity arises, and to ask Jesus to show that person a biblical passage through which he can touch their heart with his word. This is how St. Augustine was converted: he heard a voice saying, "Take and read! He took the Scripture, opened it and was touched in the heart. Or St Anthony, the father of the desert. He came to Holy Mass and heard the parable of the rich young man. He was so touched that he went home, gave away all his possessions, went into the desert and became the great father of the desert. This is how people are always struck by the word of God. That is why, in the end, one can do nothing more profound than to offer the Word of God to people, if one feels that it is intelligent, that they are ready for it - and then also to remain in prayer and ask for the grace that the Spirit of God himself will move them to open the Holy Scriptures, perhaps out of curiosity, and that a Word of God will challenge them and strike them in the heart when they look into it.

Nevertheless, people "will not be persuaded either if someone rises from the dead". There are so many miracles recorded today. Every canonisation or beatification requires an extraordinary miracle, recognised by doctors. All atheists in the world could be convinced of this and should then in principle all believe. But as everyone knows, this is not the case. Indeed, the prerequisite for faith is another aspect, as expressed in this image: As we have already said, it is not a question of saying that if someone is poor, he will automatically go to heaven, and if someone is rich, he will automatically go to hell. Rather, it is about the danger of wealth: the rich person - rich in every way - who has enough and becomes attached to things must be careful not to become attached to them and deaf to the true message of salvation, the true meaning of life. He must always ask himself whether he is really on the path to salvation and, in order to answer this question, orient himself towards love of neighbour. This love is the main commandment. This is clearly shown here.

Conversely, the poor, the one who has been thrown away and is defenceless, who is therefore totally dependent on God: this is the will to live poverty before God in a truly conscious way, to be defenceless before God. The famous beatitude "Blessed are the poor in spirit" - it is this state of being a child before God, this knowing of being totally dependent on God, this being totally given to God. It is this biblical poverty that we are talking about, because he who is only poor without believing will not go to heaven. It is about that poverty that I can bear before God. Nowhere in the parable does it say that poor Lazarus complained or scolded. He endured everything to the point of death.

Then comes this marvellous request from the rich man: I have five more brothers. Abraham, send Lazarus to them, so that they may be converted and not go to where I am. These five brothers - it is very clear here, since they must be converted - are just as unrepentant as the rich man. Like him, they persist in unbelief. Their momentary possessions are enough for them and they do not think at all about the real meaning of life.

In Abraham's answer to the rich man's request: "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets", it is clear that if they do not listen to the word of God, they will not repent nor believe "if someone rises from the dead". We do not find God and faith through miracles or other extraordinary events, but only in the power of the Word of God. It is through the power of the food that is the Word of God that we become able to believe, for this Word of God is power and life. It produces in us what it says. That is why such an important form of evangelisation is to discreetly offer a Scripture to a person who may be weak in faith or who has not yet found faith, when the opportunity arises, and to ask Jesus to show that person a biblical passage through which he can touch their heart with his word. This is how St. Augustine was converted: he heard a voice saying, "Take and read! He took the Scripture, opened it and was touched in the heart. Or St Anthony, the father of the desert. He came to Holy Mass and heard the parable of the rich young man. He was so touched that he went home, gave away all his possessions, went into the desert and became the great father of the desert. This is how people are always struck by the word of God. That is why, in the end, one can do nothing more profound than to offer the Word of God to people, if one feels that it is intelligent, that they are ready for it - and then also to remain in prayer and ask for the grace that the Spirit of God himself will move them to open the Holy Scriptures, perhaps out of curiosity, and that a Word of God will challenge them and strike them in the heart when they look into it.

Nevertheless, people "will not be persuaded either if someone rises from the dead". There are so many miracles recorded today. Every canonisation or beatification requires an extraordinary miracle, recognised by doctors. All atheists in the world could be convinced of this and should then in principle all believe. But as everyone knows, this is not the case. Indeed, the prerequisite for faith is another aspect, as expressed in this image: As we have already said, it is not a question of saying that if someone is poor, he will automatically go to heaven, and if someone is rich, he will automatically go to hell. Rather, it is about the danger of wealth: the rich person - rich in every way - who has enough and becomes attached to things must be careful not to become attached to them and deaf to the true message of salvation, the true meaning of life. He must always ask himself whether he is really on the path to salvation and, in order to answer this question, orient himself towards love of neighbour. This love is the main commandment. This is clearly shown here. Conversely, the poor, the one who has been thrown away and is defenceless, who is therefore totally dependent on God: this is the will to live poverty before God in a truly conscious way, to be defenceless before God. The famous beatitude "Blessed are the poor in spirit" - it is this state of being a child before God, this knowing of being totally dependent on God, this being totally given to God. It is this biblical poverty that we are talking about, because he who is only poor without believing will not go to heaven. It is about that poverty that I can bear before God. Nowhere in the parable does it say that poor Lazarus complained or scolded. He endured everything to the point of death. ∎