The story of the nameless rich man and the impoverished Lazarus is both direct and graphic. The rich man is not condemned for having been rich any more than Lazarus is commended for having been poor.
Unlike the crafty steward featured in last week’s Gospel narrative, the rich man had not prepared for the day when his money would be of no further use to him. That is to say that he had not used his wealth to lessen the burden of others. The result was that when he died he did so without having had a record of charity and, as we all know, charity is the currency of the next life.
Naturally, when the rich man discovered the magnitude of his error and the true price of his irresponsibility he did what anyone else would do. He repented. But it was too late. He was dead.
His eternal future had been irrevocably determined by his temporal past.
Does this story make you feel a little uneasy? It should! It is meant to put the fear of God into us. It should make a difference. After all, it is the Word of the Lord.
Yes God is merciful. He is merciful beyond our understanding. Even as I speak he is giving us another chance if that is what we need. Indeed he is merciful but he is not weak. He is both merciful and just. When he utters a solemn warning, he means it.
And yet, as he himself lamented, "They shall not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead!"
The rich man and Lazarus are figures in an illustration. We are the real people. The real wealth that we are called upon to share, and this is truly significant, is not limited to money.
Among the riches of which Jesus speaks are our time and energy, our talent, our faith and our common environment.
This is a better world because so many, including a number of you, have listened and responded. But the world will not be what God intends it to be until we all listen and respond in a hundred and one little ways whose significance can be seen only within the wider context of our combined, generosity and sensitivity.