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‘Pray for just society’

Fr Cosmas Musonda has asked congregants of Lilanda Catholic Church in Lusaka to pray for a just society.

“Our politicians, those who sometimes manipulate the law, and the ones who suffer are the poor, let us pray that our society may become more just and loving. Christianity is about service to humanity especially the poor and marginalised in society and we are called to care for the sick and poor in our society today. Like we have read in today’s gospel about Lazarous and the rich man, that story is the reflection of our society today. We are blind because we cannot see those poor around us but we recognise the rich because we will benefit from them. We are blind we cannot give care to the needy. Giving has nothing with how much you have but what you have in your heart. Let us learn to sacrifice even just our time for the needy. Let us love each other as Jesus loved us. It is each one for himself and God for us all. We need to deal with that. If we abandon the poor, God will not abandon them,” preaches Fr Musonda. “No one is too rich not to need anything and no one is too poor to give anything. Today we are invited to bridge the gaps that exist between us and the poor. We are surrounded by leaders who seem not to care about the poor.”

What happens to a rich person who loves his money more than his neighbour and laughs at those less well off?

What happens to a nation that glorifies such attitudes? Plenty. We live in times when this is happening all around us. A day is coming when all such abuses will be judged.

Almost daily we hear stories of how the rich and powerful get ever richer and more powerful. We’re awash in wealth, yet the wealth will be concentrated in fewer hands as we near the end of this age. Meanwhile, the poor will get poorer by comparison. The abuses will get to the point where economic slavery will sap the life from many (Revelation 18:13).

Jesus had no qualms in confronting such attitudes. He spoke a parable to warn us not to love money more than people. He confronted religious leaders who were lovers of money, telling them that “what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:14-15).

He went on to speak a parable that is often misunderstood to be a proof that dead people either go to heaven or to hell at death. Yet that is not the point of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16. A proper perspective of greed and cynicism and the judgment of God is the point.

Remember this is not an actual story but a parable, which is told in allegorical manner to convey spiritual truth.

This parable of the rich man and Lazarus is one of the most dramatic and pointed of the parables. It’s the only one where the main character is given a name, perhaps in part to make it more personal for each of us. Real people are impacted by our actions. We have it in our power to be a force for good. This story should motivate us to take a deep hard look at the legacy we’re building each day.

The parable begins by telling us, “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day” (Luke 16:19). This man dressed in the finest clothes and ate well every day of the year. Nothing is wrong with these pursuits in and of themselves. But this man was not willing to share his wealth. He lived by the “zero sum” rule—he wanted the whole pie for himself. None of it could be shared with others because, in his twisted way of thinking, that would leave less for him.

Christ contrasts the rich man to the poor beggar named Lazarus who was wracked with sores and reduced to being laid at the gate of the rich man hoping any amount of charity would come his way. Neither the wealthy tycoon nor anyone else gave him an ounce of care.

Both beggar and rich man died. Here is where the story takes an imaginative turn to provide a larger lesson about judgment and eventual accounting for one’s actions. Lazarus is judged faithful, and in being carried to “Abrahams’s bosom” he receives an inheritance along with faithful Abraham and others who follow Abraham’s example of faith. That inheritance is here on earth as the Kingdom of God – established when Christ returns and begins His rule.

The rich man, we are told, dies and is buried. However, seeing Abraham and Lazarus, he cries out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame” (Luke 16:22-24)

Christ is telling us there will be a day of judgment for the wicked, and it will include a fiery, if brief, torment. Peter describes this event in 2 Peter 3:10 when “the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.”

But this is an experience that will come at the end of human history and not at the time of one’s death in this age. The wicked do not go into a hell that burns forever. Christ is describing a time when our thoughts and actions will be judged, which should make us all examine ourselves today while we have opportunity to correct our course.

This is brought home in the next statement Abraham makes in the parable: “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us” (Luke 16:25-26).

Judgment is a concept polite people don’t want to talk about. It’s uncomfortable to be told you may one day have to account for your actions and deeds. Modern philosophies tend toward tolerant, non-judgmental approaches to people and lifestyles. Relativism is a foundation of the religion of modernity. The idea of a judgment or an accounting for personal actions, is ironically not tolerated. Yet the Bible shows us there will be a day of judgment and that for God’s elect, judgment is on them even now.

What led to the great gulf – in this life and in the judgment – between Lazarus and the rich man in this story? The short answer is greed and cynicism. An attitude of callous indifference to a brother’s suffering was not changed even when the suffering man lay each day in plain sight of the rich man. The rich man would do nothing to change. He consumed and hoarded his wealth with no thought of obligation toward others.

There’s a lot of that in today’s Zambia.

The parable concludes with the plaintive cry of the rich man asking Abraham to send a warning to his father’s house for the sake of his five brothers. Abraham says, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them,” and “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:27-31).

Moses and all the Old Testament Scriptures, and even the New Testament for that matter, carry enough teaching and direction to tell us how to manage our money and possessions to effectively take care of ourselves and others – to share and care for the poor. Learn the lesson now, and avoid the greed that puts us into this parable in the role of the rich man.

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