In the movie “Spider-Man,” Peter Parker could have prevented the death of his Uncle Ben if only he did the right thing, i.e., stopping the robber and helping the robber’s victim. But out of anger at the victim who earlier embarrassed him, Parker did not lift a finger, which could have prevented the robbery and the subsequent death of Uncle Ben.
This is quite similar to the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. It is important to note that this is the only parable where Christ gives the main character a name. Lazarus comes from the Hebrew name Eleazar, which means “God is my help.”
The sin of the rich man was not that he was rich. Many would say that his sin was not in what he did, but in what he did not do.
The story of Lazarus and the rich man is a very moving story.
This is one of the final prayers in the Catholic funeral rite: “May the angels lead you into paradise… take you to the bosom of Abraham… where Lazarus is poor no longer may you find eternal rest.” These last lines never fail to move me every time I say this prayer to send off a departed friend and loved one.
This gives us the ultimate reality of our life, the omega point. We will find eternal rest where “Lazarus is poor no longer.”
This is how powerful this Gospel for this Sunday is. It reminds us of the inevitable—that we will account for our sins of omission and commission and those who unjustly suffer now will have their consolation in the Kingdom of God.
But let us also not be lulled into complacency that justice will not be served in the here and now.
As I was reflecting on this Gospel in light of the present events—the pork barrel scandal and the Zamboanga crisis—I could not help but recall an elocution piece that was very much discussed in school during my high school days.
Voice of a generation
The original was in English and was written by Raul S. Manglapus, “Land of Bondage, Land of the Free.”
“The tao does not come here tonight to be judged—but to judge! Hear then his accusation and his sentence:
“I indict the Spanish encomendero for inventing taxes impossible to bear.
“I indict the usurer for saddling me with debts impossible to pay.
“I indict the irresponsible radical leaders who undermine, with insidious eloquence, the confidence of my kind in our government.
“…You accuse me of ignorance. But I am ignorant because my master finds it profitable to keep me ignorant. Free me from bondage, and I shall prove you false.
“You accuse me of indolence. But I am indolent not because I have no will, but because I have no hope. Why should I labor, if all the fruits of my labor go to pay an unpayable debt. Free me from bondage, and I shall prove you false.
“Give me land. Land to own. Land unbeholden to any tyrant. Land that will be free. Give me land for I am starving. Give me land that my children may not die. Sell it to me, sell it to me at a fair price, as one freeman sells to another and not as an usurer sells to a slave. I am poor, but I will pay it! I will work, work until I fall from weariness for my privilege, for my inalienable right to be free!
“But if you will not grant me this, if you will not grant me this last request, this ultimate demand, then build a wall around your home. Build it high! Build it strong! Place a sentry on every parapet! For I who have been silent these three hundred years, will come in the night when you are feasting, with my cry and my bolo at your door. And may God have mercy on your soul!”
This speech of Manglapus was a classic and could be considered as the voice of a generation, the generation that gave birth to the hopes of a nation rebuilding itself from the ravages of centuries of Spanish rule, the Fil-American war and World War II. It was a generation that had pure hopes for reform and transformation.
It is quite eerie to observe how from Lazarus to the “tao” to the present day, the message remains the same: “Where Lazarus is poor no longer may you find eternal rest.” Lazarus, the “tao,” the millions of victims deprived of the most basic of services by the greedy and the corrupt, to them belong the Kingdom of God.
It might be folly to think and say this is the promise of “a pie in the sky.” No, there is God’s justice in this life. The Lazaruses will be saved by God in the here and now.
Let us heed the lessons of history. The voice of Lazarus will not die until it comes to fulfillment. We are to blame whether our sin is the sin of commission or omission. We must bring justice to the poor, but let this warning also guide us: “I indict the irresponsible radical leaders who undermine, with insidious eloquence, the confidence of my kind in our government.”
We must bring justice to the poor through a government and society that is compassionate and respects the rule of law; note, the rule of law and not the distortion of the law. We must strengthen our institutions now and stop the folly of quick fixes.
The inevitable is God’s judgment. We must live our life believing God’s justice will prevail in this life and more so in the life to come, which matters most. Now also matters, but “our citizenship is in heaven… “where Lazarus is poor no longer.”
Erratum: The reference in last Sunday’s article to the “deliberate practice” is erroneous. It is from “Talent Is Overrated” and not from “The Talent Code.” The term from the latter is “deep practice.”