Readings: Amos 6: 1A, 4-7; Psalm 146, Response: Praise the Lord, my soul!; 1 Timothy 6: 11-16; Gospel: Luke 16: 19-31
Sometime in 2016, I was waiting for the green light at one of the intersections on the Santa Rosa-Tagaytay Highway. Basti, who was then 10 years old, was with me. It was late afternoon and he was eating a big slice of pizza.
A little boy came to the car begging for money. Before the traffic lights turned green, I noticed that Basti was doing something. Then he told me, in a disappointed tone, that he wanted to give half of his pizza to the boy. He was dividing the pizza as I was giving money to the boy.
I looked at the situation as a symbol of the age of innocence and the purity of compassion.
The father of one of my former students once told me a story about his son when he was about the same age as Basti. When they got home from a family event, he saw that his son did not have his shoes.
The father asked him where his shoes were and the son said he gave it to a beggar. The son saw that the beggar had no shoes, so he gave him his.
This young boy is now GMA 7 artist Carlo Gonzalez.
Stories of children always have a way of “confronting” adults with the simple yet core things of life—the little act of heroism in alleviating the plight of a fellow kid who had to walk the streets on bare feet.
The awakening of the heart and soul to the harsh realities of life can harden us, enrage us, or move us to compassion.
This is the lesson in this Sunday’s Gospel, about the parable of Lazarus and the rich man.
Lazarus was a beggar who was at the gate of a rich man’s house. He was “covered with sores [and] would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.” He was so weak that he did not have the strength to drive away dogs who would come to lick his sores.
Contrast this with the rich man’s lifestyle. Every day was a feast and his clothes were the equivalent of the most expensive signature brands we have today. But there are signs that he was not a totally despicable and evil man.
He did not drive away Lazarus from his gate and allowed him to eat the scraps. He did not become angry because of his fate in hell. When his request for some water to relieve his torment was rejected, he didn’t throw a tantrum. Instead, he expressed concern for his five brothers and asked Abraham to send them a warning so that they would not suffer the same fate.
Sin of omission
The lesson of this parable is, here is a man who did not do any malicious evil, but he also did not do anything in the face Lazarus’ suffering.
This is worsened by the contrast between the ostentatious life of the rich man vis-à-vis the inhuman conditions of Lazarus’ existence.
What brings this situation to its worst state is the rich man seemed to not have even noticed Lazarus as a person, a human being suffering an inhuman plight.
The parable speaks to the heart of the matter of the human situation now. In Asia alone, where much of the wealth was created in the first decade of the new millennium, there is a widening gap between those with access to income and those without.
My own bias as a teacher is education, public school education. Development reports point to this as one of the key building blocks to creating a more egalitarian society attuned to the values of the Kingdom of God.
In 2015, the World Bank pointed to the shift of our basic education cycle from 10 to 12 years, which includes the introduction of the senior high school program, as one key driver for genuine human development.
It also pointed out that the government cannot do it alone and the private sector needs to help implement the new program effectively. If I may add, set benchmarks of excellence that the whole system, especially the public schools, can aspire to.
Pardon these technical data. Beyond them, we must be moved by a small hungry boy and with whom we will share our “pizza,” or by the small boy walking the streets on bare feet and to whom we will give “the shoes” we wear.
As we used to tell our Tulong Dunong students at the Ateneo de Manila High School—where the seniors tutor the same eight Grade 6 students for a year and get to know them, their family and their life—poverty has a face for them.
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man reminds us that we must be attentive to our world with eyes and hearts filled with compassion, and a great soul that moves us to meet a hunger of the world, because it is in this giving of the self in love and service that we experience our deepest joy. —CONTRIBUTED