I have had the great opportunity in my life to wander the streets of Rome, enjoying its glory and standing in awe of its architecture and history. Yet for all its wonder, poverty is around every corner. That poverty is really brought home when a mother sits on a corner begging for money with a sad and hungry child in her arms. I saw a similar circumstance on the streets of Chicago when I was younger, with a woman huddling in the storefront with her little child on her lap. I remember looking around at the businessmen in suits, holding their Chicago Tribunes under their arms and walking by as quickly as they could. I didn’t have any money at the time, but that image has long stuck with me. It calls to mind images of Mary holding Jesus.
It’s hard to reconcile the wealth within the walls of Rome, or whatever city you call your home, with the poverty right outside the doors. Pope Francis and many others have sought to respond to the plight of the poor. Francis said, “In all places and circumstances, Christians, with the help of their pastors, are called to hear the cry of the poor” (“The Joy of the Gospel” #191).
Isn’t it the American dream to have it all? Wealth, power, prestige ... There are people sitting on gold mines, while others sit in the streets, wishing some of the wealth would fall like refreshing rain. We have prophetic voices now that are ignored by the very people who need to listen. What will it take to open our ears and hearts?
It’s difficult not to want the lifestyle of the rich man when you are like Lazarus begging for scraps. The scripture story tells us Lazarus was rewarded in heaven while the rich man suffered on the other side of the chasm. It seems, too, that between issues of wealth, race, sexual orientation and many others, the chasms are very much a part of our daily lives. We are all divided in so many ways. The divisions may be for protection, as the chasm in the scripture story keeps people from crossing over between heaven and hell. Yet other chasms keep us so broken.
Lazarus has finally found comfort in the bosom of Abraham in the next life. The rich man learns he has already reaped his reward on earth. The rich man seems so selfish in this scripture. Part of me tries to find a redeeming quality in the fact that the rich man wants to warn his five brothers to change before it’s too late. Yet Abraham points out that the brothers heard the same prophets as the rich man and they haven’t listened. No person returning from the dead would change their minds.
“The Lord raises up those who were bowed down.” Psalm 146, sung this Sunday, resonates with images similar to those found in the Canticle of Mary: “He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:52-53). Mary’s hymn of praise reminds us, as does Psalm 146, that the Lord, the Mighty One, remembers the promises made to the children of Abraham.
Where do you hear the cry of the poor today? What messengers do we ignore? God has sent us prophets for our time who implore us to heed the message. Yet we ignore the mother huddling on the street with her baby in her arms. God prepares a banquet for us in heaven, but we need to help those around us meet even their basic needs. What will you do to make sure you end up on the right side of the chasm?