Two Men And a Gate.
Jesus said to the Pharisees: "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.'"
This is a story about two men and a gate. One was very rich, the other very poor. The rich man owned the gate and lived inside it. The poor man did not own anything and lived outside. He was not allowed in; the rich man did not go out or do anything for him. But he knew his name was Lazarus. Does that remind you of anything in your own experience? Maybe nothing as extreme, but if you were ever poor, you will remember what it feels like to be outside the gate. If some of your relations or neighbours were considerably better off than your family, you may know about the gate. People on the inside are likely to be less conscious of the gate than those outside it. I remember a mother of a family looking back on her own school days and recalling with tears the day her teacher embarrassed her before the whole class, because she did not have a new school book, which every child was told to get. It never dawned on her teacher that she could not get the book until her family got their social assistance in the following week.
Sitting down at the same table
This story will remind us of the wider world as well. Indeed it is a good description of our times: rich countries with lots of food to eat and money to spend - inside the gate; poor countries are outside, two-thirds of the world's population, lacking proper food, shelter and basic health care. They are not allowed through the gate; when they venture in as emigrants or refugees, the people in the rich countries become fearful and sometimes hostile.
Jesus wanted to change the world so that Lazarus could sit down at the same table with the rich man. Lazarus would welcome such a change, but the rich man would be likely to oppose it with all his might. If he let Lazarus inside his gate, he might have to share what he had and be the poorer for it. The strange thing is that whenever this change actually happens, not only is the poor man the better for it, so is the rich man.
Fr. Jon Sobrino has spent his life working for the cause of the poor, not only in his own country, El Salvador, but in the wider world as well. He is convinced that the poor offer the rich countries values which they sorely need: a spirit of community instead of isolation and loneliness, sharing instead of selfishness, faith and trust in God instead of unbelief. Most people in Ireland know about Tom Hyland from Ballyfermot and the work he did for East Timor. He went to East Timor when it was a dangerous place; he continues to work for it now that it is free. A few years ago he was staying there with a family of twelve; other relatives brought the household to twenty. The food was basic and there were no such things as snacks. 'The more you took,' he said, 'the less there was for everyone else'. But he felt more contented than he had ever felt before. 'I was going through life not contributing anything; now I have made a little contribution.'
At one time the late Archbishop of Port-of-Spain, Anthony Pantin lived in the poorest parish in his diocese. The parish church was also the national shrine of Our Lady; one night a group of pilgrims were stranded there with no way of travelling home until the next day. Some parishioners heard and in a short time the pilgrims were invited to stay with local families. Commenting on this hospitality, the archbishop concluded, 'The smaller the house, the more room there is in it.'
Most older people in Ireland will remember a time when they had very little. Neighbours depended on one another, sharing, lending and working together. Gates and doors were seldom locked. That spirit of community is not completely lost, but the richer people become, the more security systems and electronically controlled gates there are between them.
God of goodness,
You provide for all your creation.
Give us an effective love for our sisters and brothers
who suffer from lack of food.
Help us to do all we can to create a world in which
the poor man Lazarus can sit down at the same table with the rich.
We ask this through Christ, our Lord.