The Great Depression of 1929 to 1939 brought about economic hardship on the populace. But while the unemployed poor of the land formed long queues to get their ration of soup in New York, the affluent in Long Island managed to put up a surprise party for their dogs. The menu: all you could eat of the choicest steaks—for dogs; the cost $100.00 a plate (McKarns). In Hollywood, newspaper magnate, William Randolph commissioned his mansion with enough bedrooms for the 94 special guests invited for his New Year’s Eve (1932) party featuring a Kid’s Masquerade. The party was so extravagant that a news reporter had to apologize to listeners, explaining that the beauty of the party was that the costumes were inexpensive—only $700 apiece. Here, Lazarus meets the real Dives, who lives a pampered live while the poor are devastated by want.
Before penning these words, I searched the scripture to find anywhere Jesus directly condemned someone for being wealthy. I found none. Likewise, I didn’t find anywhere he praised someone for being poor. But I found many passages warning about the dangers of material prosperity. The rich man’s sin was not a sin of commission, rather that of omission. He was condemned not for his possession but because he failed to take notice of the poor right at his nose. He could be customarily a “good guy” for tolerating the sight of Lazarus at the front door of his mansion and permitting him to check out his garbage for food. Lazarus must have smelled so awful as to attract street dogs that found their meal in his wounds. Dives, I suppose, would be kinder than many today who would rather call the cops to haul that ugly sight—Lazarus—off our property.
All of us here today are the five brothers and sisters of the rich man. We may not be as rich as Elon Musk, but in comparison with the rest of the world, we are fabulously wealthy. Warm clothes, air-conditioned rooms and cars, food and drink are within the beck and call of many. While others worry about not getting enough calories, many of us worry about too much calories. So, our rich brother, Dives, pens this letter from hell: “I want to warn you about the danger of riches; riches of all kinds—money, intelligence, health, power, and social or religious status. These can lead you to forget about God and everyone else except yourselves. That’s what happened to me. I thought I was successful, but from where I am now, I realize that God truly identifies with every Lazarus of the world: the hungry, the sick, the unborn, the immigrant, and the prisoner. One of them is lying at your door right now. Open your eyes and see him, for if you establish a chasm between Lazarus and yourself, you are doing exactly the same between you and God—(Dives from Hell).”
Certainly, we’re incapable of meeting the needs of everyone in the world. When disaster strikes in other parts of the world, we feel helpless given the number of scammers who take advantage of every crisis. We must begin at home, where charity beckons, and support our parish, Catholic Charities, St. Jude’s Center, the Homeless shelter that help you serve the poor.
There’s another troubling fact which today’s Gospel clears for us. Polls show that majority in our society, including Catholics do not believe in hell or Satan. Years ago, a Catholic School in Tulsa barred me from celebrating school Mass for them because I refused to change the reading of the day in which reference was made to hell. These believe only in God, heaven, peace, and love. Sadly, there’s a serious problem with that judgment. It’s like believing in health and denying sickness or giving an “A+” grade to all students in a quiz whether or not they merited it. My promise to you: I will never redact the words of scripture to make myself or someone feel happy. Christ spoke about hell for about 90 times, and I’m not free to change his words for anyone’s comfort.
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo