Today’s Gospel provides the story of the rich man and Lazarus, sometimes called Lazarus and Dives. There is some dispute about whether this passage is a parable, with some good arguments on both sides. In any event, there are deep spiritual truths contained throughout. The point I would like to focus on today is when the rich man asks Lazarus to send someone from the dead to his brothers because the brothers would then repent. What strikes me as interesting about this exchange is that the rich man seems to show some remorse for his own choices and exhibits concern for others, even if they are of his own family. Furthermore, he asks something that seems imminently reasonable to our sensibilities, that some concrete proof be shown to the brothers by which they would incontrovertibly see the error of their ways.
The comments of the rich man indicate he is aware of how his brothers acted, which was probably in a similar way as himself. He realizes they are in danger. Maybe it is not too late to save them. What Abraham says in reply is telling. Abraham says that the brothers have Moses and the prophets and that if they won’t believe what these holy writings have to say, they won’t believe that someone would come to them from the dead. Perhaps this is because without taking the holy scriptures as true, there would be no basis to think someone could come to them from the dead with a dire warning.
This part of the passage reminds me of atheists who will accept no evidence or argument at all for theism. I’ve written before of the exchange between the Christian apologist and scientist Hugh Ross and atheist Peter Atkins on Justin Brierly’s show, where Atkins claimed that he would simply believe himself to be having a hallucination if he were found affirming any part of theism. For those set against belief in God by any and all means, there is nothing that will convince them. God Himself could speak to them from the clouds or shake them by the shoulders and they would persist in denial. Such a disposition might be that of the rich man’s brothers; no matter what, they were not going to believe. One day the realization will come, but by then it will be too late.
The idea of being ‘too late’, of the door to repentance being closed, is quite divisive. Some claim that Christian teaching on this subject is harsh, impugns the nature of a good, holy, and just God, and so forth. I cannot hope to settle this matter with any modicum of satisfaction here. Yet, it does seem worth looking into the hardened obstinacy to faith that we encounter in today’s Gospel reading and in our own experience.e We are above all called to trust in the justice and goodness of God that is evident to us, whereby each person is ultimately given more than sufficient revelation from God in some way, shape, or form so that they might turn toward Him. We cannot judge the eternal state of any person and are called to have hope in the words of St. Peter that God wills all to come to repentance and faith. The parable of the rich man in Lazarus serves to check our presumptions about being too late to repent and urges us to do so now.
There is certainly more going on in the passage than what I have briefly outlined above. Foremost would be the call to love the least of these and to see Jesus in the face of the poor and sick. To ignore the poor at our feet is to ignore Christ. Stepping over the sick or helpless person when we can do something for them is to step over and ignore Christ in our midst. Others have written well on these topics and Catholic social teaching and the corporal works of mercy lay out the concrete details of living the Christian life consistently in this regard. What continues to amaze me is the incredible depth of Sacred Scripture, able to touch us on so many levels.
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