Director, La Salette Shrine
If the purpose of a homily is to explain the point of the readings, especially the Gospel, I could stop right here. Both the first reading and the Gospel state emphatically, unequivocally, that we cannot, may not, must not ignore the poor and the hungry.
There are plenty of other passages that reinforce the message: Whatever you did/failed to do to one of these least, you did/failed to do to me (Matthew 25).
It’s not enough to say “Goodbye and good luck” to a person in need (James 2). Real fasting includes freeing the oppressed and sharing your bread with the hungry (Isaiah 58). Hunger is truly a burden, a yoke, a kind of oppression.
In the best case scenario, the rich man would have invited Lazarus in to share his table.
That failing, he could have sent food out to him.
That failing, he could have told him where he might find food.
That failing, he could have directed him to someone else who could help.
Instead, he did none of the above, which was the worst case scenario, not only for Lazarus but for the rich man himself.
There is always the danger of insulating ourselves from the challenge of poverty and hunger by repeating certain convenient truths: Maybe it’s their own fault that some people are so poor—true enough.
It’s hard to tell the genuinely needy from the frauds—true.
Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me—true.
I’m not rich!—true for most of us.
Here is where the second reading comes in: But you... “fight the good fight of faith” (I prefer the classic translation to today’s “compete well for the faith”), and two verses later, “Keep the commandment.” Notice, commandment is in the singular. Paul is not writing here about the Ten Commandments but about living by faith, facing up to the challenge of faith, even in the face of inconvenient truths.
What does our faith call us to in the presence of poverty and hunger? Even without today’s parable, the answer should be obvious!
Yes, some kind of discernment is needed. We want to “help responsibly.” But we can’t discern poverty and hunger out of existence.
You and I may not be the next Mother Teresa, or the next Dorothy Day; but we do actually have to care, and care deeply, about poverty and hunger. This might enable us to see what we really can do.
Not to care is our worst case scenario.