The mercy we seek from God is linked to the mercy we show to others, pontiff says at Wednesday audience (FULL TEXT)
VATICAN CITY — “To ignore the poor is to despise God,” Pope Francis said at today’s Wednesday general audience, as he turned to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in his ongoing catechesis for the Holy Year of Mercy.
Lazarus, lying outside the closed door of the rich man’s house, longs to eat even the scraps that fall from his table. Lazarus represents the silent cry of the poor in every time and place, and the paradox of a world in which astonishing wealth coexists with scandalous poverty, Pope Francis told the faithful and pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
When both men die, their situation is reversed. Lazarus, whose name means “God helps,” is brought to the bosom of Abraham, while the rich man is in torment, thirsting even for a drop of water.
Abraham has to explain to him how, in the mystery of divine justice, the mercy we seek from God is linked to the mercy we show to others.
“The door that separated the rich man from the poor man in life, has been turned into ‘a great abyss’,” Pope Francis said. “As long as Lazarus was at his doorstep, for the rich man there was a chance of salvation, of throwing open the door to help Lazarus, but now that they are both dead, the situation has become irreparable.”
“If I do not throw open the door of my heart to the poor, the door remains closed. Even for God. And this is terrible,” he said.
The pope concluded saying that only conversion can open hearts to the truth of God’s word and its saving message, which, as Our Lady sings in her Magnificat, overturns the situations of this world by the triumph of God’s justice and mercy.
Here below we publish an English translation of the pope’s catechesis.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. I wish to reflect with you today on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the poor man (Luke 16:19-31). The lives of these two people seems to run on parallel tracks: their living conditions are opposite and wholly unshared. The front door of the rich man is always closed to the poor man, who lies there outside, seeking to eat the leftover scraps from the rich man’s table. [The rich man] is wearing luxurious clothes, while Lazarus is covered with sores; the rich eats sumptuously each day, while Lazarus is starving to death. Only the dogs take care of him and come to lick his sores. This scene recalls the harsh rebuke of the Son of man in the Final Judgment: “I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was […] naked and you did not cloth me” (Mt 25:42-43). Lazarus represents well the silent cry of the poor of every age, and the contradiction of a world where vast wealth and resources are in the hands of a few.
Jesus says that one day the rich man died: the poor and the rich die, they have the same fate, as we all do, there are no exceptions to this. And then the man spoke to Abraham, begging him by the with the title of “father” (Luke:16: 24,27), claiming therefore to be his son, belonging to God’s people. Yet during his life he showed no consideration for God; indeed, he made himself the center of everything, locked in his own world of luxury and waste.
In excluding Lazarus, he did not take into account at all either the Lord or his law. To ignore the poor is to despise God! We must learn this well: to ignore the poor man is to despise God. There is a detail in the parable that should be noted: The rich man has no name, but is only described by the adjective: “the rich man”; while that of the poor man is repeated five times, and “Lazarus” means “God helps.” Lazarus, who lies at the door, is a living reminder to the rich man to remember God, but the rich man does not receive the call. He will therefore be condemned not for his wealth, but for being unable to feel compassion for Lazarus and helping him.
In the second part of the parable, we find Lazarus and the rich man after their death (vv. 22-31). In the hereafter the situation is reversed: Lazarus was carried by the angels in heaven to the bosom of Abraham, while the rich man is hurled into torment.
Then the rich “lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” He seems to see Lazarus for the first time, but his words betray him, “Father Abraham,” he says, “have mercy upon me and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.” Now the rich recognizes Lazarus and asks him for help, while during his life he pretended not to see him. How many times do many people pretend not to see the poor! For them, the poor do not exist. Before he denied him even the scraps from his table, and now he wants him to bring him something to drink! He still believes he can claim rights to his previous social condition.
Declaring it impossible to meet his request, Abraham himself provides the key to the entire account: he explains that good and evil have been distributed so as to compensate for earthly injustice, and the door that separated the rich man from the poor man in life, has been turned into “a great abyss.” As long as Lazarus was at his doorstep, for the rich man there was a chance of salvation, of throwing open the door to help Lazarus, but now that they are both dead, the situation has become irreparable. God is never directly brought up, but the parable clearly warns: God’s mercy to us is linked to our mercy to our neighbor; when this is lacking, also that [God’s mercy] finds no place in our closed heart, it cannot enter. If I do not throw open the door of my heart to the poor, the door remains closed. Even for God. And this is terrible.
At this point, the rich man thinks of his brothers, who are likely to meet the same fate, and asks that Lazarus return to the world to warn them. But Abraham replies: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” We should not wait for miraculous events to convert, but open our heart to the Word of God, who calls us to love God and neighbor. The Word of God can revive a withered heart and heal it of its blindness. The rich man knew the Word of God, but he did not allow it to enter his heart, he did not listen to it, and so he was incapable of opening his eyes and to have compassion on the poor. No messenger and no message will replace the poor we meet along the way, because in them we encounter Jesus himself: “Whatever you did to the least of these my brethren, you did to me” (Mt 25: 40), Jesus says. Thus, in the reversal of fortunes the parable describes is hidden the mystery of our salvation, in which Christ unites poverty to mercy.
Dear brothers and sisters, in listening to this Gospel, all of us, together with the poor of the earth, we can sing with Mary: “He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away” (Lk 1: 52-53).