The Holy Gospel according to St. Luke
"There was a rich man who was
dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every
day. 16:20 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.1
16:22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to
be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 16:23 In
Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham
far away with Lazarus by his side. 16:24 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.' 16:25 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.
16:26 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.' 16:27 He
said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house©©
16:28 for I have five brothers©©that he may warn them, so that
they will not also come into this place of torment.' 16:29 Abraham
replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to
them.' 16:30 He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to
them from the dead, they will repent.' 16:31 He said to him, 'If
they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be
convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
A Tale of Two Men . . .
AS Jesus tells us the story, we are clued into the deeper need
of this poor man by the name that Jesus gives him: "LAZARUS" whose
name means, "GOD HELPS", with the deeper meaning for all who
listen to Jesus being: "Lazarus needs Godís help because nobody
else will help poor old Lazarus", so, we also need Godís help,
instruction and positive influence over our lives.
The Rich Man2,
reclined at a table and Ďfeasted sumptuously." There was luxury
and splendor for him to enjoy, life was easy, days were care free,
living was good. The other man, Lazarus, had been thrown on the
ground and was lying in front of the rich manís gate where he was
unable to remove himself. Perhaps he was taken there by friends
who thought he might receive something from the rich manís table .
. . any means of sympathy would have helped! Lazarus was starving
and in agony . . . his body was not surrounded by the comforts of
abundant food, feasting, nor the laughter of friends. For him
there was only festering sores, the pangs of hunger, lonelieness
and despair. Lazarus had no friends to laugh or cry with . . .
only the dogs who added to his torment. As an audience that
listens carefully to this parable from Jesus, we may catch
ourselves jumping to a certain conclusion: A day of reckoning must
be coming, and when the poor man dies -- thatís when God will
At least that is what we are led to believe Jesus is teaching
us. But, in actuality, this is only an introduction -- A day of
reckoning is not limited to an Eternal Outcome, but Godís justice
and Godís mercy are present realities in our lives and in the
How is this so?? It is possible to be both reconciled and
judged, depending on our faith in God and where we place our hope
and trust. It is possible to be recipients of Godís grace and at
the same time, have a blind eye toward the ways in which we
place ourselves above the priorities of others. Let us return
to the story to see this.
It is fairly obvious that Rich Man has considered his own
well-being ahead of Lazarus. But what is slightly less noticeable,
is that, in spite of his position as suffering in a fieri hell,
the rich man has not changed. He has not corrected his outlook on
Lazarus nor thought differently about those who are like Lazarus.
The rich man says, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send
Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue."
I donít know about you, but I get the feeling here that the rich
man seeks for Lazarusí help Ė as though Lazarus was yet a "slave"
to the rich manís needs. Even as the dialogue continues between
heaven and hell, the rich man treats Lazarus more like an object
than a human being. Rich Man still has not learned his lesson even
though he is the one now suffering.
Notice how, a little further down in the dialogue, the rich man
still does not acknowledge a rise in status for Lazarus. But
instead, the rich man makes an additional request of Abraham, "I
beg you, send him to my fatherís house for I have five brothers Ė
that he may warn them . . . " Again, Lazarus is treated as a
messenger or servant, as though he ought to obey and do the rich
Many times in life people operate out of "modes of normalcy."
What do I mean by "modes of normalcy?" By this I mean that in
their family or in their culture or because of the conditions in
which they have learned to live, an individual will develop
behavioral patterns. When thoughts and ideas are developed,
practiced and then supported in a given environment, be it a
family, a village or a nation -- then a "mode of normalcy" becomes
established, all foreign modes, or outlooks on life, will be
dismissed as unnatural or unacceptable. A mode of normalcy can be
further enforced by customs, by prejudices and by ridicule of
anyone who questions the ways and means of the "mode."
In the case of the rich man, his environment was a culture in
which the members of his household would be served by others, most
likely, slaves or servants. In the time of Jesus, owning a slave
would have been considered a "normal mode" of being. It was
generally accepted that you might own a slave. Furthermore, the
religious culture of the time taught that, "to be rich was to be
blessed of God," and conversely, "to be poor or in ill health
meant that you were accursed, a sinner and/or unclean." Therefore,
someone who was old or sick or "despised" such as was the case for
people who were poor, sick and dying (like Lazarus!), would have
meant that persons in this category were more like "non-persons",
untouchables, not to be associated with, nor seen, nor heard, nor
paid attention to. So Lazarus was so beneath the Rich Manís
acceptable norm, that he was essentially a non-person . . . he was
more of a "thing" to be used, ignored and then to be discarded.
Such modes of normalcy are also apparent in our own day and
age. Something that is a normal habit, it need not be a bad habit,
but behaviors and attitudes that most often capture our attention
are the ones that tend to be negative. Abusive behaviors are
unfortunate truths of our lives and of those whom we know.
Unfortunately for the abuser, I mean the one who enacts the abuse,
he or she might not even realize that his or her actions, whether
verbal (mental), or physical (violent), are unacceptable, because
he or she may have been raised in a family, culture or nation
where this kind of behavior is the NORM. (??Is this making sense
Conversely, the one who has been abused all of his or her life,
may not recognize that he or she is a victim of abuse or that he
or she is in an abusive relationship. Those of us who observe such
behavior may immediately recognize something is abnormal, but the
one who has known nothing but abuse considers his or her life
circumstance to be normal. ("Everyone gets insulted by their
spouse" or "My mother was slapped around by my father all the time
. . . so I figured that my husband was just like Ďall men areí
when he hit me"). The cycle can go on and on and be passed down
from one generation to the next . . . thus the cycle of abnormal
and unacceptable behavior can be propagated and even become more
normalized (more violent!)!
Perhaps this is why Jesus tells us these little stories about
characters who act out of their "normally established values" on
one another. Itís because Jesus wants us to study the actions of
these characters and to question what they are saying and examine
closely what they are doing in the narrative. With the overall
purpose being that we are trying to discover what it is that Jesus
is saying to us!
Consider the circumstances of Lazarus who lived his whole life
in a kind of misery and suffering Ė in poverty and subservience.
"COULD IT BE THAT LAZARUS CONSIDERED HIS POSITION IN LIFE AS
NORMAL?? In some families and cultures in the world (dare I say
even here in Emmitsburg? There are some individuals who may drop
out of school, or who become pregnant before marriage, or who
consider themselves as unworthy or unable to improve their lot in
life, because"Thatís how its always been in our family" or "In our
part of town" or "in our country . . . women never go to school"
or "never get the high paying jobs." Other individuals and
families have held on to racial bias, old hatreds, addictions or
violent behavioral traits that are being passed on to second and
third generations. How can the cycles of our unacceptable norms
I would propose the first solution is to become aware of what
your "norm" is. In the lesson today . . . we become aware that the
Rich Manís norm is his indifference toward Lazarus who is
suffering. This misdirected outlook on the poor and sick has led
to the Rich Manís placement at the "lower and hotter" position of
eternal destiny. He has yet to acknowledge there was a problem and
that is his problem! If you are becoming aware that your
attitudes, values and comprehension of "modes of normalcy" are not
normal after all, then you are moving toward the first stage of
There are many great resources for improving your understanding
of yourself and the sometimes undetectable "negative norms" that
have become rooted in your life. You might wish to attend a
self-help group or better yet, a twelve step group such as AA.
Such groups can help you by the wisdom of the people there.
Drinking is not the cause of domestic violence . . . it is a
learned behavior and it is only made worse by the addition of
drugs or alcohol. Getting slapped around or continually put down
by your spouse is also "not a normal behavior." IF this has been
your experience, break free of that relationship or contact a
womenís shelter or domestic violence program Ė there are many such
programs (see footnote below). Get help, talk with your pastor or
priest, your life and your childrenís safety may depend on it.
Donít be ashamed! Get Help! Whatever it takes!!
Know that bigotry, violence, and abuse are not normal, God is
love and wants us to experience joy, education and order in our
lives!! There is a whole new life that is made possible by the
love of God found in Jesus. Lazarus had suffered especially badly
in the last days of his life, you would have wanted for him to get
some help. Your life is also of great value to God . . . get
yourself some help if you can. If you feel unable to help
yourself, then ask a friend to go with you or to help you get the
help you need. If you know of someone who is needing to see the
error of their ways, whether they are an abuser or a victim, then
you may be the person who can begin the process of healing, but
keep in mind that some situations require professional assistance
and you should not try to convince someone of the error of their
ways if they are not ready to change themself . . . avoid conflict
and remain safe if a "violent norm" has been a personís reality.
Seek professional consultation if this is the case.3
If you recognize that God loves you, then you will also know
that you can rise above the negative NORMS that have been
presented to you in your life. You can go back to school and
succeed because the voice of God is YES!! You can do anything with
Godís help! You who have never known tenderness and caring and
concern and who have hardened yourself in order to bear up under
the "abusive conditions" that were your norms . . . you can use
that same protective strength to go out into the world and
overcome the educational and social barriers that have formerly
held you back. God will show the way beyond the rich manís gate.
You can be healed of the sores, chase away the dogs and overcome
the odds that otherwise loom over lives that have not enculturated
a "new positive norm" of existence.
May Christ draw especially near to you and all who seek peace,
order and a "positive norm" for life.
more writings of Pastor Jon