(Jeremiah 17:5-10, Psalm 1:1-4,6, Luke 16:19-31)
A frustrated apartment dweller in New York City wanted to get rid of the trash that had accumulated in her home during the Sanitation Department strike. Using her ingenuity, she packed the trash in several boxes, then gift-wrapped the boxes and left them near the front door of the building. Next day the boxes were gone! Someone stole them.
We are deceived by appearances. If a package is beautifully wrapped we assume that what’s underneath is beautiful as well. On the other hand if we put a treasure in an old paper bag, people assume that the contents match the container and ignore it.
Today we read the classic parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (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.”
The rich man was a package wrapped in luxury. Lazarus was a package dressed in rags and sores. Read further to find out what was underneath each of these two “packages.”
When Lazarus died and his wrappings were removed, “he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.” Lazarus, it turns out, was a chosen, precious child of God, though he was disguised as a poor beggar.
When the Rich Man died and was unwrapped, he was assigned to the “netherworld, where he was in torment.” Beneath the wrappings, the Rich Man was self-centered, smug, and uncaring. He was not fit for heaven, and was, consequently, assigned to the trash heap.
An interesting note is that Luke tells us this parable was addressed to the Pharisees. These were people who were wrapped in impressive religious packaging. Everyone assumed they were pleasing to God and would be first in line to jump into the bosom of Abraham. As a group, these people did not want to even come close to the likes of Lazarus; they didn’t want to contaminate themselves. And, yet, in rejecting the beggars at their door, they were rejecting Jesus. How off track they were! They worked hard to learn the law and practice even the fine points of it, but on a regular basis treated God’s own children as trash.
This parable always makes me feel uncomfortable, especially the part that relates the conversation that went on, after death, between the Rich Man and God. Things may have been different if the Rich Man had taken time to have serious conversations with God before he died. He would have learned who Lazarus really was.
Jesus came into the world “packaged” in swaddling clothes. Mary and Joseph were hidden beneath the appearance of “poor nobodies.” The poor can identify with them and know that when they come to Mary’s door, they will never be turned away. We are also among the poor; there is a Lazarus hidden in each of us. Today, then, we let the poor person within us go to Mary’s home to get the care we need.
“Holy Mary, mother of God, and our mother too, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”