Jesus spends much of his public ministry speaking about "the poor." He constantly reminds us that "The poor you will always have with you" and He will not let us become deaf to their cry. Page after page of the Gospel speaks of his unwavering concern for the beggars, the widows and orphans, the homeless, the jobless and the oppressed. We almost want to protest: "What does this have to do with the kingdom of God? Talk to us about holiness and prayer. Talk to us about everlasting life. Enough about the poor."
The story of Lazarus and the rich man is a story of opposites. We hear the cry of Lazarus, but more importantly, we hear "the cry of the rich man", begging God to send someone to warn his brothers. And sadly the reply comes: "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced, even if one should rise from the dead."
The Risen Lord lives on in the church, crying out in the name of the poor and who continues to warn us not to let our hunger for material wealth blind and deafen us to the needs of our less fortunate brothers and sisters.
But as we try to be attentive to the cry of the poor, we should also listen carefully to the cry of the rich, the warnings of those who have misused and abused their wealth, losing their personal integrity and their God given inheritance of eternal life and happiness.
Listening to the cry of the poor requires a desire to change the present state of things. The challenge to "make all things new" necessarily implies letting go of the old. We cannot keep clinging to the ways or the things or the people who make us feel secure and safe. The Letter to Timothy puts it very simply: "pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness." This is the only way that we can acquire the mind and spirit of Jesus.
As Christians we are called to proclaim "The Gospel of Life" to the world. So much of what is communicated to us by the media preaches just the opposite: self satisfaction, defending one's rights, protecting one's investments and security. These values all sound fine on the face of things, but they tend to weaken and obscure the radical elements of the Christian message - poverty of spirit, compassion, meekness, peace making, forgiveness, and making all things new.
To listen to the cry of the poor is a radical return to the fundamentals of our faith. It means putting on the mind of Christ. As the Psalmist says, it means "keeping faith forever, securing justice for the oppressed, giving food to the hungry, setting captives free and raising up those who are bowed down."
There are plenty of people like Lazarus in our world, crying out for the scraps from our table. And there are likewise plenty of people like the rich man, totally clueless of what is right before their eyes.
Christianity is not merely a doctrine or a system of beliefs. We believe that Christ lives in us and that he unites us to one another in His own Life and Love. As long as we allow the cry of both the poor and the rich to go unheard, we will remain apart from one another and opposed to one another.
The "great chasm" that distances us from one another will grow ever wider, and we will never truly discover the God who dwells within us.
Included Graphic: "The Rich Man and Lazarus" - Eugene Burnand