Summary: So was the ’Lazarus’ we read of in Luke chapter 16 really a good man, and was his rich neighbour really a greedy, money-grabbing, tight-fisted, slave-driver? Don’t know, not...
I had a guy at my door on Friday night who asked rather aggressively, “where do I go to get a meal around here?” I said back to him, equally aggressively, “where do you normally go for a meal?” He said, “I want a meal.” I said, “mate, it’s outside hours, I don’t know you, and I’m not giving you any money.”
I can be a hard bastard when I wanna be! Mind you I get lots of calls like this. Most of the guys who come to the door like this take one look at me, catch the expression on my face, and say, “buddy, can you find the priest for me?“
I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I don’t look like the person they were hoping for. Who did they expect? Admittedly, on one occasion I did answer the door in my boxing gloves, so I could appreciate why, even when I told them that I was the priest, they figured I was covering for somebody else
In truth, I’m not really a hard bastard, and we did give him a meal to take with him, but I’m not confident he ate it. We may yet find it, as I’ve found lots of stuff we’ve passed on to apparently needy people, disposed of discretely in the church grounds. You see, you cannot trust ‘these people’ - people who hover around your house, looking for a handout - people like this Friday night guy, or people like Lazurus, who Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel reading.
"There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores." (Luke 16:19-21)
I don’t know why Jesus had to insert that last tasteless detail about Lazarus. Do I really have to feel sympathy for him, as well as give him a meal? For in truth, I know enough about poverty in this country already. You don’t need to rub in the facts. I know diabetes affects members of our indigenous population 25 times morn than it does the rest of the community, but I don’t need to hear details of how this leads to gangrene and amputations, and I certainly don‘t want a description. I really don‘t want to think about these things too much. After all, I‘ve got work to get on with and a family to look after!
In truth, I don’t think we need to hear any more about Lazurus at all. Do you? We’ve read the statistics. We saw him on the news and we gave at the office! And it’s not my fault that Lazurus hangs out with the dogs, and it’s not as if I was the one who covered him in sores. And if he’d just get himself a job, he could get some proper medical treatment for his skin anyway. After all, it’s no good me just giving him a handout. He’ll just take my money down to the pub and drink his way through it and be back at my gate by sunrise!
Ain‘t it the truth? People like Lazarus are professional beggars, aren’t they, and they don’t generally get that way through bad luck! Indeed, in Lazurus’ case - covered in sores and the dogs licking his wounds - we know full well what his problem is. He’s on the needle! There’s nothing more certain!
Am I being a hard bastard again? It’s just the way things are. If you abuse your body with drugs for any length of time, your skin problems will be a give-away. And it makes sense to me that Lazarus has a problem with the dogs. He’s probably too out-of-it most of the time to shew them away!
You see, you can’t trust people like Lazurus, and you’ve just gotta be a bit bloody-minded about these things because the fact is that we have limited resources and unlimited demands on those resources, which means that we have to save our welfare reserves for those who truly deserve them.
Surely this is the essence of any good Christian welfare program - the all-important distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor. Why waste your scraps on Lazurus when your hard-earned excess wealth could be given to someone whose painful situation was not their own fault:
The poor young mother with the three children, whose wretched husband who took off with the secretary and left her penniless!
That sad young boy whose mum and dad are both in gaol. It’s not his fault, is it? What chance does the poor lad have?