The Danger of Indifference by Father Ian Maher The story of the rich man and Lazarus is a striking lesson about indifference to those who are in need, and the fact that there are consequences for both the haves and the have nots. This is certainly something worth reflecting on during this time of corona virus. Lazarus, we are told, struggled to survive, receiving nothing from the kindness or generosity of the rich man, but scraping out an existence from what fell from the abundance of the rich man’s table. Jesus does not say in the story whether the rich man was a cruel or unkind person, only that he lived his life in luxury and was seemingly oblivious to the plight of the poor man who was living in plain sight. In the picture painted in the gospel, both Lazarus and the rich man die and experience very different destinies. The poor man is carried away by the angels to be with Abraham, presumably in heaven, and the rich man finds himself in Hades. One is close to God, one is separated from God. With all his worldly wealth stripped away, the rich man sees Lazarus at a distance and cries out to him for help, only to be told by Abraham that it is too late for him.
The gulf has been set and there is no way back. He has no way of putting right his failure to respond to the need that was right in front of him, nor of warning his brothers against making the same mistake. It is a vivid story and one that some have used to argue for belief in a literal hell. I think that is a mistake and that the striking images are more about prompting the listener to think about what they might do in the here and now to make a difference to the needy and less fortunate whom we come across in our day-to-day life. Jesus often used hyperbole to make a point. Surely, hell for the rich man was in recognising, too late, the good that he could have accomplished in life, not least in reaching out to Lazarus whose suffering had become invisible to him?
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