Gospel reflection for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

This dominant theme of mercy continues in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Jesus names the poor beggar — Lazarus — and gives no name to the rich man. This is the first clue of the direction of this parable as it is the antithesis of what one expects. It is usually the rich whose names we know while the poor are anonymous. 

This parable, as much as any of them, hits to the very heart of Jesus in his on-going conflict with the Pharisees of his time. Self-righteous and fixated on their own success and sense of superiority, the Pharisees promoted a theological notion that one’s life condition was a sign of their moral status, and therefore they should be treated accordingly. While this idea is found in the earlier works of the Old Testament, that had pretty much been overturned by the writings of the later prophets, especially Ezekiel.

In our time, this demonizing of the poor and less fortunate finds its roots in those Christian denominations that adhere to a stricter Calvinist interpretation of Scripture. We “know” we are saved if we are well-off. If we are destitute then clearly one is not saved. The political undercurrent that rejects increasing or funding programs for the poor, for migrants, and for those who are struggling, reflects that theological sensibility. While it is easy to see such attitudes as racist on the surface, it actually runs much deeper than that.

This parable should hit every person in the gut. Each and every day of our lives we encounter the poor and suffering. In larger cities we see the homeless and street people face-to-face. While at times their aggressive behavior can be off-putting, it can also be seen as an honest reaction to living life on the fringes and being constantly ignored and scorned.

But more than that, we encounter many levels of poverty and struggles. The issue crying out in our times is that of mental health awareness and our response to that major social crisis. Yet, expanding social programs to respond to that issue languishes in the legislatures as much as do programs for the poor and for immigrants. 

The current economic crises in our country remind all of us of the frailty of life. Our own downfall can come quickly. With the record-setting pace of inflation and ever-increasing interest rates, more and more people are being marginalized. Food pantries struggle to keep up -- not only is there an increasing demand, but the supply chain and donations are waning. 

By keeping the rich and famous, and ignoring the poor and struggling, we feed into the very social conditions that Jesus encountered and confronted in his lifetime, and as he expressed it in this parable. The homeless, the poor, the sick and suffering, the addict, the person suffering from anxiety, depression, or from learning or social anxiety issues are not nameless; they belong or once belonged to families, they have hopes, dreams, experiences, and the fundamental need to belong and to be loved. To learn someone’s name is the first step in compassion and often the easiest way to bring to that person a sense of dignity. 

Then it becomes much more difficult to ignore the pleas and needs of someone whose name we know. More and more people are in need, and yet it is easy to overlook and to pass blame. When we work to lift up the least, we lift up everyone.

Let us take this opportunity to reevaluate our relationship with the poor, and especially the allegedly anonymous people we encounter every day. Jesus reminds us that in the end the poor will have their names known, the rest of us are in danger of becoming anonymous.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.