In today’s Gospel, Saint Luke recounts the parable that Jesus Christ tells of the rich man and Lazarus. After hearing Saint Luke’s accounts of healing miracles in the last weeks, this parable can be rather jarring, for it confronts us with the reality of judgment and reminds us of our responsibility for those around us.
The story recounted is simple enough: a rich man dies, after having had no pity on the poor man at his gate. After death the poor man, Lazarus, is welcomed into heaven by the angels and described as being in Abraham’s bosom, while the rich man has to endure the fires of hell. And, although he begs for relief, none is granted to him.
The rich man is not condemned for being rich, or even for being particularly hard-hearted or cruel. His sin was that of negligence. He simply failed to see his neighbour as a person and to take responsibility for him. Even as he is tormented in Hades, he shows no sign of true repentance, for he remains concerned only for himself and his own family. Saint John Chrysostom tells that this rich man’s soul was dead before his bodily death, for “he did none of the works of the soul. All that warmth which issues from the love of our neighbour had fled, and he was more dead than his body.”
The key to salvation is not simply to be found in what we do and don’t do. Rather, it is to be found in the attitudes which we have towards God and towards our brothers and sisters. Are we so caught up in our own egotistical desires that we have become blind to the needs of those around us? The illusion of self-sufficiency was rudely shattered for this nameless rich man, for he had failed to realise that his neighbour was necessary for his salvation.