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Thursday, 11 June 2015

The Path of Generosity

This parable (Luke 16. 19 – 31), more than perhaps any other of the parables told by Jesus, is a story of contrasts. Contrasts between rich and poor, hell and heaven, and, perhaps most significant of all, between the way of greed and the way of generosity.

As in the parable of the Rich Fool, where a farmer stores up what he has for himself and then dies when he had expected to eat, drink and be merry, this parable is about the dangers of gaining wealth solely for oneself. Here, the focus isn’t on the inevitability of death but instead the impact of greed in the afterlife.

The selfishness of the Rich man in this life results in separation from God in the next. When he realises his predicament, the rich man wants to warn his siblings who are still alive so that they will follow the path of generosity rather than the path of greed, but is told that they have all the warning they need in the scripture – Moses and the prophets. If they don’t pay heed to their sacred writings then they are unlikely to pay heed to anything else.

So, the contrast between the way of greed and the way of generosity is the central contrast within this parable. The parable is told to encourage its hearers to take the path of generosity in their lives.

We have in church today paintings which share a similar message. María Inés Aguirre’s exhibition is called ‘The Way of the Heart’ and shows us scenes from the life of Christ and the Saints which encourage reflection on self-sacrifice and generous love.

MIA’s paintings result from her gifts as an artist. She thinks that the paintings are given to her by a higher power as she follows the emotions of line and colour. They are offered to us as a gift for our reflection on those emotions provoked by the Passion of Christ while seeing that story as also representing the different moods of our lives too. Contemplating MIA’s paintings, like reflecting on Jesus’ parables, leads us towards the path of passionate, generous love; the Way of the Heart.

The story of the rich man and Lazarus is chiefly aimed at the Pharisees who, we are told in an earlier verse, were lovers of money. It was not only the Pharisees’ love of wealth that set them apart but, more importantly, their hardness of heart. While we might feel revulsion at the lavish lifestyle of the rich man, the horror lies in the fact that he ignores the needs of his neighbour.

The story of the rich man and Lazarus does not call us to condemn wealth, but to notice the needs of our neighbours – both on our doorsteps and further afield – and to examine our own lives in the light of this. It asks us to consider the following questions:
  • Who is our neighbour? 
  • Are we so wrapped up in our own fulfilment that we forget our neighbours whose potential is denied? 
  • Are we ready to share our resources so that we can all become the people God would have us be?
These questions are as pertinent now as they were in Jesus’ day. And now as then, they are not questions to be put off for another day.

Jesus teaches that our resources are for the benefit of everyone. He continually considers the poor, and those who are on the margins of society first. Interestingly, this is seen in this parable by the fact that it is the only one of Jesus’ parables where someone is given a name. And the named person is Lazarus, not the rich man. In our society, the rich and powerful are constantly named to us, giving the message that these people are of more value than others. Who is it that we name and value? Is it the people society gives value to, or is it the people of the poor countries who are eating the scraps from our table? The answer to that question will reveal whether we are walking the way of greed or the way of generous love.


Roland de Lassus - Psalmi Davidis Poenitentiales.

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