The Sin of Doing Nothing

How many times had Dives quickly brushed past Lazarus lying at his gate — enough times not only to learn Lazarus’ name, but also to remember it. Here lies the real sin of Dives, the reason he ended up in “the netherworld, where he was in torment.” What was the sin of Dives? He had not ordered Lazarus to be removed from his door. He did not kick him in passing. He was not deliberately cruel to him. The sin of Dives was that he never noticed Lazarus, that he accepted him as part of the landscape, and simply thought it perfectly natural and inevitable that Lazarus should be miserable while Dives himself lived a life of luxury. It was not anything that Dives did that landed him in hell; it was what he did not do.

The sin of Dives was that he could look on suffering and need and feel no impulse to help or to show compassion. Dives looked at a fellow human being, hungry and in pain, and did nothing about it. His was the punishment of the man who never noticed.

In the days since the deaths of so many innocent people at the hands of terrorists, many throughout our country have noticed the pain and suffering of others and have responded with prayer, support, compassion and aid (often in heroic ways). The tragic events of the past weeks have brought about so many concrete expressions of love of one’s neighbor. But set aside this terrible tragedy for a moment. Would we still respond to another’s suffering in the same way? Would we be ready to do whatever we could to show mercy and charity to those who appear before us in need? Or would we be like Dives, who simply never noticed?

The end of the Gospel passage is a stark reminder that failure to show charity when we ought to is equally as damning as actively mistreating another. The parable that Christ tells alerts us to live our lives to the fullest in virtue right now, because after death it is too late. The rich man wants Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his family. But the Word of God Himself has already been sent and spoken. Salvation consists in listening to the Word of God and putting that Word into practice. More information helps no one without a freely chosen, faith-filled commitment to right living and right acting.

It seems hard that Dives’ request that his brothers should be warned was refused. But the plain fact is that if people possess the truth of God’s Word, and if, wherever they look, there is sorrow to be comforted, pain to be relieved, needs to be cared for, and it moves them to no feeling and to no action, nothing will change them.

It is a terrible warning for all of us that the sin of Dives was not that he did wrong things, but that he did nothing.

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

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