Sins of omission can be fatal

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

26th Sunday in ordinary times

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19–31) tells us of how two men lived and how their lives ended. The rich man was dressed in purple and fine linen (an outfit similar to that worn by the high priest), lived in luxury, and feasted every day. On the other hand, there was the poor man named Lazarus whose home was the rich man's gate and whose survival depended on the food that fell from his table. Unlike that of the rich man's, his body was “dressed” with sores which were licked by the dogs. When the two died, Lazarus was carried by angels to Abraham's side while the rich man was brought to hell “where he was in torment.”

One day, the rich man looked up and saw Abraham with Lazarus by his side. He called to Abraham and asked him to send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue. But Abraham replied that there was a great chasm between them which no one could cross. Trying another tack, he asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his father's house to warn his five brothers so as to spare them from his fate. But Abraham refused again saying, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”

Very noticeable in the parable is the reversal of fortune of Lazarus and the rich man: the poor man, who suffered while on earth, went to heaven while the rich man, who was prosperous and enjoyed life on earth to the full, went to hell. In the parable, the rich man was not characterized as “wicked.” He just lived as a rich man. Neither was Lazarus characterized as “holy.” He was just poor and lived by waiting for scraps from the rich man's table.

Obviously, with this parable Jesus wants to stress that those who are better off in life have the obligation to help those who are not. And failing to do so has disastrous consequences. From the parable, it is easy to see that the rich man's sin was that of omission: he did nothing for Lazarus. Though he “dined sumptuously each day,” he shared no food with Lazarus. Neither did he attend to Lazarus' sores nor provide him with a roof. For him, Lazarus simply did not exist. The same sin of the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan who, though they saw a man lying half dead after falling in with robbers, did not bother to extend any help to him.

Jesus calls the needy “blessed”: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” (Lk. 6:20-21). God's heart went out to the poor. They enjoy a privileged position before Him.

To the rich who do nothing to help those in need, Jesus have only woes: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep” (Lk. 6:24–25). How God wish that the world's rich will not dull their sensitivity for God's “little ones”!

The parable is not meant only to console the poor by telling them that their difficulties in this life will be rewarded. It is also a warning to all of us not to turn a blind eye to their plight. Finally, it warns us against complacency. We must not think that because we keep God's commandments and go to Mass on Sunday, we are already good Christians. More than that, we need a heart that is full of active concern for the needs of our neighbor. For when we appear before the judgment seat of God, what matters is not how much money we made but what we did to those in need. For as Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine — the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and the one in prison — you did for me" (Mt. 25: 40).

In short, the parable teaches us that the real test of our faith is in the good we do for “the least of the brethren.” And helping those in need is the “way” to come closer to God, a "bridge" for crossing to the Lord. The rich man in the parable ignored this — to his eternal loss.

Many of us may be lacking in material things. But that does not excuse us from doing something for those in need. Each one of us has something to share with them — our time, a kind word here, a word of appreciation there, a helping hand, a listening ear, a sympathetic heart, a whispered prayer. All these can go a long way in easing a burdened and drooping spirit. If we have more, we can help, with our volunteered service or donations for those working with street children, the homeless, the aged, etc. Or we can join organizations working for the empowerment of the poor, etc.

One way or another, we have to help those in need. Otherwise, we will be faulted with the sin of omission — as was the rich man — to our eternal damnation.