Imagine how, while he was alive, the rich man in the Gospel parable probably saw Lazarus. Maybe he saw him as just a hungry man lying at his door, another poor man, a sick man, a homeless man, or a dirty and smelly man. Maybe he saw him as an unnecessary burden, a no-body, a man to be ignored. However, in death, while suffering torments in the netherworld, he learned that Lazarus may have been all those things but most importantly, Lazarus was his God-given key to heaven. Abraham reminds him of this fact with the words, “My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad.” There is a reason why the rich man was so blessed with wealth, food and comfort and there was a reason why the hungry, homeless Lazarus was “lying at his door.” He learned of this truth about Lazarus too late when there was an unbridgeable chasm between the two men.
Lazarus was the rich man’s key to heaven in three ways. First, Lazarus was so close to him. Lazarus was “lying at his door,” he saw him day in and day out, going in and out of his comfortable home. Secondly, Lazarus was so much in need of food, longing “to eat the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.” Thirdly, the rich man could satisfy Lazarus’ needs easily. He was blessed with enough money, food, clothes, etc to meet Lazarus’ needs. But the rich man did not recognize that Lazarus was his God-given key to heaven. He did nothing to satisfy his need for food even though he could do so easily. Maybe he did many other good things in his life to other people but now he is suffering torments after death because he failed to realize that God, in Lazarus, had given him a personal key to heaven.
The Prophet Amos strongly denounces the lazy revelers who enjoy all their wealth and comfort and are not concerned about the moral decadence, threats and suffering of their countrymen. They do not care that their country is being invaded. They are concerned with lying on “beds of ivory,” eating “calves from the stalls,” drinking “wine from bowls,” and anointing themselves with the best oils. Because they do not care about those close to them who were at the point of collapse, those whom they could easily assist, the Lord says that “they will be the ones to go into exile first.” They failed to realize that there was a reason why they were so blessed in the midst of want and danger.
My dear brothers and sisters, we all have our own Lazarus. Who is your own Lazarus? Our Lazarus is that person close to us and we see and come into contact with them frequently. It is that person who is in so much need physically, spiritually, emotionally, materially etc. It is that person for whom we have been blessed with resources and talents to meet their needs. If we do not recognize our own Lazarus here on earth and strive to meet their needs, we will realize too late, probably in death, that this was our own God-given key to heaven. Eternal regret will then be our portion because we have forever lost our key to heaven.
There is a certain woman in a parish where I celebrate the Eucharist regularly who always asks that I pray what she calls “Prayer of anointing” over her every single day. I have tried explaining to her that this prayer was not necessary and that the Eucharist she had just received was the greatest anointing ever over any priestly blessing. But she never stops asking for this “Prayer of anointing,” which is different from the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. At a point, I was getting tired because I had to leave immediately after Mass sometimes and she will never let me leave the Church until I said this priestly prayer over her. It only dawned on me later that this woman was my own Lazarus. She was so close to me; I saw her everyday at Mass. She was so much in need of receiving priestly blessing and seemed to live for this blessing. I had received this priestly ministry for people like her and the least I could do was to give her the blessing as many times as she requested for it even if I did not understand why she asked for it on a daily basis. But I prefer to treat her as my own Lazarus in this life than in the next.
Our own Lazarus may be our loved ones in the home so much in need of help, hope, kind and merciful words. This Lazarus may be the infant in the womb, so close to the mother and begging for a chance to enter this world even if it means being adopted, a loving option we can take if we recognize them as our own Lazarus. Our Lazarus may be a confused person who is need of the words of truth or a prayer of faith. It may be a colleague in the workplace or a fellow parishioner in any form of need. In His infinite wisdom, God has placed us so close to them and gifted us with our talents and resources so that we meet their needs. They are our own God-given keys to heaven. To ignore them is to risk losing heavenly joys.
As we encounter Jesus Christ in this Eucharistic sacrifice, let us beg of Him to open our eyes to recognize our own Lazarus. St. Paul calls on Timothy in today’s Second reading to “lay hold of eternal life, to which he was called when he made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses.” The gift of eternal life has been won for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We cannot merit it ourselves and we cannot pay Jesus back for it. But we lay hold of this eternal life when we recognize our own Lazarus and do what we can to meet their needs with the gifts and talents we have received from God.
May our Blessed Mother Mary intercede for us so that we recognize our Lazarus and see in them our own God-given key to heaven in this life so that we do not have to live in eternal regret in the next life.
image: Lazarus and the rich man, Gustav Dore/Shutterstock