Today’s Gospel consists of a parable by Jesus. Before saying anything about it, I’d like to tell a parable of my own.
In a certain city, there was a nonprofit organization that worked to alleviate hunger. They would collect still-good food donated by grocery stores and restaurants and deliver it to community centers and churches that would distribute it to people who needed it.
Wanting to expand their operation, the organization launched an ambitious fundraising campaign. They invited half a dozen world-renowned movie directors to make short films about hungry people in their city. The directors responded, and six Academy Award-class videos were the result — creative explorations of the lives of individuals and families who sometimes didn’t have enough to eat.
Posted online, the videos instantly attracted global attention. Millions of people watched and commented on them. “Superb ... deeply moving ... profound and personal look at the human cost of dysfunctional food policies,” and so on.
But while the movies drew millions of views, the organization received no contributions. People were, indeed, deeply moved by the videos; they just weren’t moved to donate anything to the organization, which was forced to carry on with its cramped warehouse and aging fleet of trucks.
You can see where I’m going.
Jesus told an artful parable about a hungry man and a wealthy man — so brief yet so powerful. First there is the pathos of the poor man suffering on the street, then the pathos of the wealthy man crying out for consolation after death.
Every detail carries a weight of meaning: the poor man named, the rich man left unnamed; the crumbs of bread falling to the rich man’s dining room floor; the feral dogs licking the poor man’s open sores; the discovery that while the wealthy man ignored the poor man, he knew his name.
Here indeed is material for a homilist to sink his teeth into! And yet the story hardly needs any commentary at all, since — and here is the real genius of it — anyone anywhere can grasp the meaning without explanation.
If we grasp its meaning, what then? Do we — so to speak — click, view, shed a tear, email a link and move on?
Who is Lazarus in my life? Why does he/she feel like an outsider to me? How could I show concern for this person?