Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today’s liturgy of the word presents to us a beautiful parable, “The Rich Man and Poor Lazarus”. It appeals to each one of us – children, students, and adults alike. I would like to share with you my reflections on this parable in the line of justice. Jesus is very vivid in describing the characters of his parable. Jesus’ parables are not simple stories told to amuse the listeners or not even to take a “simplistic” message. They are revolutionary. They invite us to change, invite us to transform – not only our personal lives but our dealings with the society and the world at large… They are “double-edged sword”.
How does Jesus describe the rich man? He is dressed solemnly and extravagantly, feasted on daily basis, his food consists of no ordinary ingredients. He despised the poor, did not even allow them to come near him, and did not care about their needs or their misery. At the end of the story Jesus tells us about his and his brothers’ stubborn character – impossible to convince and dialogue with them.
How does Jesus describe poor Lazarus? ….He lived in the periphery of the society, he was starving – longing for food, shelter, medical care, attention and respect as a human person. But unlike the rich man, he had a name – “Lazarus”, meaning “God helps”. At death he was carried by the angels when the rich man was just “buried”. Jesus says many glorious things about him. With humor he narrates the gap between the rich and the poor. The gap in this world and the gap that would come in the “next world”.
Let me give you three quotes; I have said in the past this saying from Gandhi, “The resources of the world are enough for all, but not enough for the greediness of one”. A Tamil-Indian poet would say, “Let us destroy this world if a single man fails to find a plate of food”. And Mother Theresa would say, “The biggest disease in the world today is the feeling of unwanted… like the Lazarus at the gate; and the greatest evil in the world is the lack of love and indifference”.
In our situation here in Uganda, we not only hear about the widening gap between the rich and the poor, we also experience them in our day to day life. Some members of our own community lack basic needs; they even lack courage to knock at the government and are not included in any development programs. Church, our Mother is conscious of this terrible poverty and tries to alleviate it in her own capacity. Whenever our bishop visits us he talks to us on these matters. Back in 1891 Holy Father Leo XIII wrote a letter that we call “encyclical” calling the world to see the condition of the workers, problems and misery caused by the industrial revolution. His letter inspired his successors to continue talking to the world on similar issues. They wrote many documents commemorating this famous letter called Rerum Novarum.
Pope Paul VI who visited our country and canonized our Ugandan Martyrs too wrote even more emphatically on this issue. He could not accept the condition of so many people who are hungry and destitute lacking education and health care. Even he was visibly angry on money being squandered on national or personal display and the production of weapons. We see it in article 53 of his letter called “Progress of People”. And the Popes of our own time have spoken extensively on peace, development, against individualism, consumerism, violence, etc. Unfortunately many of us are not familiar with these writings. But we know that “in her continuous attention to men and women living in society, the Church has accumulated a rich doctrinal heritage”. Church has felt the need to become involved and intervene in the social needs of the people – it is her pastoral concern for her faithful children.
Please listen to few details of global poverty… almost half the world – over 3 billion people live on less than 4,000 Ugandan shillings a day. The wealth or the production of 41 poorest countries is equal to the wealth of 7 richest people in the world. Nearly one billion people do not know to read and write in the world. And do you know that one percent of money spent on weapons is enough to educate all the children of the poor countries? And the worst of all, in every 4 four seconds a child in the world dies of hunger, which is about 21,000 a day. We can describe poverty in many different ways. I am sure, by looking at our own villages you agree to these details. Honestly tell me, our neighboring village of Buvuma, what facility does it have for a growing child? My dear brothers and sisters, it is true… in the past few days we have lost few hundred children in “nodding disease” in the north of Uganda. Our government and NGO’s have not yet found any solution.
You may ask with anger in your heart, Why this? You may tell me… ‘these Whites cheat us, we are still being colonized, we are lazy, we don’t know how poor we are, we don’t know how to work, our politicians are corrupt and sell our country and our resources, we are fighting among ourselves all the time, etc, etc. Some of you may even agree that we Africans are poor… it will be like this’. Yes, some things I said may be true in some way. But God does not want us to live that way. We can and must do things that can change this kind of life… life that is dehumanizing, life that does not reflect the love and justice of God.
The parable clearly points to us a disparaging gap between the rich and the poor. The wealth that Jesus portrays in the life of the rich man has made him blind and made him forget the suffering of the poor man. The conscience of the rich man was dead and it turned his eyes away from the misery of Lazarus. Often the poor do not cry out, but they speak through their eyes. Helder Camara once said, ‘The protests of the poor are the voice of God.’ He also said, ‘Poverty makes a person subhuman; excess of wealth makes a person inhuman’. Yes, God wants us to live a full life… and abundant life. To reflect as one God’s family we need to live in equality and justice for all.
The story does not clearly say that the rich man oppressed the poor or he got the riches through unlawful ways. But surely the “crime” that Jesus points out is his indifference and blindness to the needy. If the Church…we are the Church, does not address this issue, it will surely become irrelevant. We will become irrelevant if we do not fight for what is our due… if we do not work for our own rights and our own place in the society and the world. Popes through their “letters” promises that they are part of the poor and they stand by us. They suggest to the faithful, governments, world bodies and the people of good-will many suggestions and recommendations that could be implemented. To the faithful in particular, the Church appeals to the conscience… it is interesting to note that the rich man was a “believer”. He has recourse to Abraham. Unfortunately his faith did not touch him or his brothers. Appealing to the conscience of the people is the best thing the Church can do. Now we as a part of the Church, living in this particular place, what can we do? We can do the following and put forward these statements as questions to our conscience:
- Firstly, we share, even if we are poor… share with someone who is at the gate more miserable than we are… showing compassion is a ministry. Gospels tell us that when Jesus saw the poor he felt sorry for them, he had pity for them. And he went around doing good. We do have any pointers showing him as a rich person.
- Secondly, we can form solidarity movements to fight for our needs and rights. One way is to fight against corruption. Best way to fight against corruption is not to become part of it… that is not to give bribe… not to vote our leaders for money or short term benefits… unofficial data tells us that nearly 40% of our aid assistance go to the greediness of our politicians and civil servants.
- Thirdly, use our aids, grants and donations wisely. Often our villagers are accused of wasting the project resources that come from our government and from our diocesan programs, like Caritas, Wakembe, etc.
- Fourthly, embrace our development programs willingly and whole-heartedly. For example few months ago when we invited our sub-parishes to come and participate in our agricultural program very few of you turned up. Concretely, let use our Don Bosco Reach-Out program for our children well. Often I am disappointed when our Protestants and Muslim brothers cooperate better than you.
Let me conclude with a story… A muggaga (tycoon) came out of a supermarket carrying many bags of goodies and was about to enter his car. A beggar-boy ran to him and asked him, ‘is this your car? How much does it cost?’ The rich man laughed and said, ‘I don’t know how much it cost, because my brother gave me this, as a gift.’ Immediately the boy said, ‘I wish I get a car like this?’ to which the rich man said, ‘what will you do with such a car?’ and the boy surprisingly said, ‘I can give it to my brother’, pointed out to a lame boy seated under a lamppost.
Fr. Lazar Arasu SDB