How often do we hear of our family, friends and tour guides telling us, when you go to a poor city, in India, Africa or similar cities never give any money to the poor because when you give to one, 20 to 30 others will crowd round you; they may even snatch your purse and other belongings . . . your life may even be in danger. Also, these poor kids are part of a bigger syndicate who force them to beg, so the money you give them will be taken away by these exploiters and evil group of people. What happens when we hear of such comments? Usually, we would believe and we would become very cautious about giving any money to these poor kids when we travel.
I don’t doubt that there is a lot of truth in the comments of these family, friends and tour guides of ours and that we should be cautious and be prudent when we travel. However, what would next happen to us is, over time we will also hear of other comments like, “Don’t give any money to the poor, they are going to use the money to drink; you are only spoiling them; can’t you smell the alcohol in their breath? I usually see him in Farrer Market drinking beer you know?! Others would add, “Yes, actually that’s true . . . I also have seen this guy drinking . . . we are only encouraging them to drink more . . . etc.
Then some weeks later when we read in the newspaper quoting the director-general of United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) saying that there are, “925 million people are undernourished in the world, and every six seconds a child dies because of undernourished-related problems, hunger remains the world’s largest tragedy and scandal.” But, before we can reflect further on this reality in the world, our dear friends would tell us, “Ayah! The poor will always be there lah! There are so many millions of them, what can we do?!
Initially, we being good Catholics may object by saying, “But, we can do something to help them. Yes, but how?” Then, typically, the discussion will end there with a silence and the topic of discussion is changed to other daily concerns and interests. Sub-consciously, we begin to accept and we will tell ourselves, “Actually, it is true, these problems are too big for us, let the United Nations and rich countries help them.”
If what I have described makes good sense to us, then what is likely going to happen to us over time is that we will develop a certain sub-conscious attitude towards the poor. When we meet them in the streets, some of us will throw in a coin, others will walk away pretending we did not see the person. Then when someone comes up to us to ask for some money, we will immediately tell ourselves, “He is a con man; he wants my money to drink; he is going around cheating every gullible person he can cheat with the same sob story” Then again, when we see pictures and reports of the poor in the newspapers, or television or our Parish Bulletin, some of us (though thankfully no all of us) will sub-consciously tell ourselves, we can’t do much for the poor; there are too many millions of them in the world, they are not my problem!”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we want to live the Gospel values that Jesus preaches as in today’s Gospel, then the poor must be OUR problem and OUR concern. The rich man in today’s Gospel did not chase Lazarus away when he was dying of hunger, rejection and loneliness, the rich man did not condemn and insult Lazarus for being an eyesore at the gates of his huge palace; the rich man simply ignored Lazarus and continued, as Jesus says, “dress in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently every day while Lazarus was covered with sores and dying of hunger; he was totally helpless that he was too weak even to shoo away the dogs that came to lick his wounds. . . For the rich man, Lazarus, whom he knew by name, was just part of the ordinary scene of the neighbourhood that did not affect him at all.
Thus, the sin of the rich man was not that he had done any harm to Lazarus, but that he did not do any good; to Lazarus who was in great need. His sin was that of omission; the failure to do good to our neighbours. The point of the parable is that, even as the rich man was repentant after his death, it was too late for him to share his goods; he should have shared it when he was alive.
And so being somewhat desperate, the rich man pleads further with Abraham, “Father, Abraham, can you send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames?” “No,” Abraham explains that this is not possible. So, he pleads once again, “Father, I beg you then to send Lazarus to my father’s house, since I have five brothers,to give them warning so that they do not come to this place of torment too.” To this Abraham replies, “They have Moses and the prophets . . . if they do not listen to them, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.”
Mother Teresa says, “The biggest disease in the world today is the feeling of being unwanted (like Lazarus at the gate). And the greatest evil in the world today is lack of love – the terrible indifference towards one’s neighbour which is so widespread.
Worse still, let us not develop the mentality of the rich man and great harvest in St Luke’s Gospel 12:16-21 who says to himself, “What am I to do? I have had a good harvest and do not have enough room to store my crops. I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and store all of my grains and my goods in them, and I will say to my soul you have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time.” But, God said to him, “Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, there is so much to be done in this world. Let us not look at the poor to be people who are to be pitied, but as opportunities for us to share the abundant blessings that God has given us. Let us not make the mistake of the rich man in today’s Gospel who was totally contented and conditioned by his family and friends into thinking that the poor are there to stay and we can do nothing to help them.
The good news is that our Parish is experiencing a renewal of reaching out to the poor and needy more fully and widely. In addition to our Parish Social Mission Fund that has offered grants to serve thousands needy for their basic necessities of water, housing, food, education, medical needs and the like, the different ministries in our parish too are reaching out to the poor like our children’s Mass kids are raising funds this week for the poor near Batam, others catechism kids too have raised funds for the poor in Haiti, the local poor Muslim children, the SDG choir members putting up a concert for the poor in Cambodia, the many non-ministry members also weekly offering their services to run our Parish canteen and soup kitchen, and still others packing dry goods for the local poor and the like.
There is a story of Norman Vincent Peale, the famous pastor, speaker and author who learnt a very beautiful lesson from his father when he was young. This is what happened. He wrote. One Christmas Eve I went out with my father for some late Christmas shopping. When I was walking home, carrying many packages and feeling tired, a beggar, bleary eyed, unshaved, dirty old man came up to me and touched my hand with his and asked for some money. I immediately recoiled from his dirty hands and rather impatiently brushed him aside and walked on.
“You shouldn’t treat a man that way, Norman,” my father said to me as soon as we were some distance from him. “But, dad, he’s nothing but a bum,” replied Norman. “Bum?” his dad replied. “There is no such thing as a bum. He is a child of God, my boy. Maybe he hasn’t made the most of himself, but he is still a child of God. We must always look at others with esteem and respect. Now, I want you to go and give him this.” My father pulled out a dollar from his pocket which is all he could afford. “And do exactly the way I tell you. Go up to him, hand him the money and speak to him with respect. Tell him you are giving him this dollar in the name of Christ.”
“No, dad” objected Norman, “I will not do that.” But, my father insisted. “Go and do as I tell you.” So, I had no choice but to run after the old man; caught up with him and said, “Excuse me, sir. Here is a dollar in the name of Christ.”
The old man looked at me in absolute surprise, considering how I brushed him aside and recoiled myself from him so impatiently earlier. Then, to my great surprise, I saw a wonderful smile spread over his face. A smile that made me forget that he was a dirty and unshaven beggar. I could now see his real face through the streaks of grime – his essential nobility. Graciously, with a sort of bow, the beggar said, “I thank you, young sir, in the name of Christ.”
Through this experience, “My irritation and annoyance faded like magic. And suddenly I was happy. The very street seemed beautiful. In fact, I believe that in the moment I held that man in full and complete esteem and respect, I came very close to Christ Himself. And that, of course, is one of the most joyful experiences a person can have.
Let me conclude by simply saying this. There are many “Lazarus” around us and in the world; some of them live within our very own homes; they are people who are in need of our compassion, one way or another.
God has given each of us so much blessings and they are not meant to be used solely for ourselves, but to be shared with others who have less. It is like having a huge banquet with large quantities of food, but only two persons are there to consume all the food and drinks. If we do not share the rest of the food and drinks, all would go to waste. The rich man in today’s Gospel precisely kept everything to himself and in the end wasted all his wealth and blessings.
When we are generous enough to share what we have with others, whether they are our financial and material wealth, or our talents and time, we are actually expressing our gratitude to God through our good deeds. We are saying to God, “Lord, I thank you for all these blessings and I know that You have given them to me so that I can use them to help make this world a better place where there is greater peace, love, compassion for one another. Lord, give me Your Light and Wisdom to love those who have less, as I know You love them as much as You love me. Lord, help me to become more like You, today and always.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
(Cf. Adapted from: Happiness Manufacturers, Spiritual Challenges for Youth, Hedwig Lewis, S.J.: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash: India: pp 191-192)
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