In today’s gospel, Christ tells us his well-known parable of the rich man and Lazarus. (Lk 16; 19-31) This parable was the source of the black spiritual “Rock-a-my Soul in the Bosom of Abraham” which was first documented in a collection of spirituals in 1867. We can certainly understand how poor slaves could relate with Lazarus and see his entrance into heaven as a promise of their own futures. I wonder if the slave owners saw anything of themselves in the rich man. Or like the
rich man, were they blind to the suffering and plight of those they “owned” and probably considered hardly human at all? Some contemporary commentators say that the parable could be called “The Man Who Didn’t See” or “The Man Who Didn’t Care”. It wasn’t what the rich man did. He didn’t directly cause harm to Lazarus. His sin is what he didn’t do when he could have. He easily could have relieved Lazarus’ suffering, but he did nothing. Likewise, slave owners often cared little about the plight of their slaves. Jesus’ challenge to us in all this should be clear. If we can help others in need and choose not to, for whatever reason, then we are like the rich man in the gospel. In the last judgment scene in the gospel of St. Matthew, those who are condemned are those who didn’t feed the hungry or clothe the naked and so forth when they could have. When we examine our consciences before the Lord, which is something we should honestly do on a frequent basis, we should carefully look at not only what we have done, but at what we didn’t do. Maybe our greatest failings lie there.