[NB: This homily was delivered as part of the annual fundraiser for Mundelein Seminary. I have only reproduced the theological portions of this homily.]
This is a really difficult Gospel, especially for those of is like me who are economically closer to the rich man than to Lazarus. On the surface, it seems to indicate that the rich man went to Hell because he ignored the poor man. Well, I went downtown twice this week, and I did exactly that: I kept my eyes forward, as we all learn to do, and pretended not to see the Lazaruses on the street, every twenty yards, with their cups and their signs and their missing bus fares. Does this mean that I share the same guilt as the rich man? Does this mean that I am going to Hell?
I have no easy answers for you. As Christians we cannot ignore or sugar-coat the Gospel. We must allow it to challenge us in all of its power. We must struggle with the words of Jesus. If we truly believe that we are right to keep our eyes forward, as I did; if we believe that giving directly to the poor on the streets is counter-productive, is un-sustainable, and may be feeding an addiction; even then we still cannot ignore the words of the Lord. We must find a way to answer his challenge.
We can only understand his challenge, though, if we remember that everything Jesus ever did was oriented toward one and only one goal: the salvation of souls, which is to say, bringing people into a deep and eternal relationship with God. This Gospel is not ultimately about poverty and homelessness; it is about how the rich man lost his soul.
Let me suggest, then, that the rich man lost his soul through an especially grievous indifference. Lazarus essentially lived on this man’s front porch, and could have lived on nothing more than the leftovers from all those sumptuous feasts. It required almost no effort for the rich man to do something for Lazarus, and yet he actively ignored the problem and allowed contempt for Lazarus to build in his heart.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if are going to keep from losing our souls, we must never allow ourselves to become indifferent. Even as I passed panhandler after panhandler downtown, doing nothing, giving no money, I tried to allow my heart to break just a little bit for each person, because I know, without a doubt, that Jesus’ heart is breaking for them. To be honest with you, I do not keep my eyes forward because I don’t care about the people on the street, it is because I am so overwhelmed by the immensity of the problem, and how little I can do to fix it. Just as I am overwhelmed and heartbroken by the war in Syria, by mass shootings, by systemic racism, by our broken politics, by my generation abandoning religion wholesale, and by so many other national and world problems that I feel powerless confronting. I am overwhelmed and I am heartbroken, and I can see only one solution to all of this: Jesus.
If we were all to become zealous, committed disciples of the Lord, and if we were to preach the love of Jesus to every corner of our neighborhoods and communities, then these problems would begin to go away. We cannot bring about world peace, but we can preach Jesus, who always brings peace. We cannot prevent terrorism or mass shootings, but the more people who become authentic followers of Christ, the fewer people there will be who desire to commit violence against their neighbor.