"For I Was Hungry, and You Gave Me Food"

"The parable of the rich man and Lazarus must always be present in our memory; it must form our conscience. Christ demands openness to our brothers and sisters in need." - Pope St. John Paul II

"For I Was Hungry, and You Gave Me Food"
Photo by Stephanie LeBlanc / Unsplash

There was once a very old man, whose eyes had become dim, his ears dull of hearing, his knees trembled, and when he sat at the table, he could hardly hold the spoon, and spilled the broth upon the table-cloth or let it run out of his mouth. His son and his son’s wife were disgusted at this, so the old grandfather at last had to sit in the corner behind the stove, and they gave him his food in an earthenware bowl, and not even enough of it. And he used to look towards the table with his eyes full of tears. Once, too, his trembling hands could not hold the bowl, and it fell to the ground and broke. The young wife scolded him, but he said nothing and only sighed. Then they brought him a wooden bowl costing few-pence, out of which he had to eat.

They were once sitting thus when the little grandson of four years old began to gather together some bits of wood upon the ground. ‘What are you doing there?’ asked the father. ‘I am making a little trough,’ answered the child, ‘for father and mother to eat out of when I’m grown up.”

The man and his wife looked at each other for a while, and presently began to cry. Then they took the old grandfather to the table, and henceforth always let him eat with them, and likewise said nothing if he did spill a little of anything.

What goes around comes around. The way we treat other people is the way we will be treated. That is especially true within the family. The boy saw how his father treated his grandfather and assumed that it was an acceptable way to treat someone who was old. In today’s parable Jesus warns us that we will reap in the next world what we sow in this world.

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’" - Matthew 25:31-36

We need to remember that sharing is the criterion of the Last Judgment: Matthew (25:31ff), tells us that all six questions to be asked of each one of us by Jesus when He comes in glory as our judge are based on how we have shared our blessings from Him (food, drink, home, clothing, mercy, and compassion) with our brothers and sisters, anyone in need, in whom He is found. Here is the message given by Pope St. John Paul II in Yankee Stadium, New York during his first visit to the U.S., October 2, 1979. “The parable of the rich man and Lazarus must always be present in our memory; it must form our conscience. Christ demands openness to our brothers and sisters in need –openness from the rich, the affluent, the economically advanced; openness to the poor, the underdeveloped, and the disadvantaged. Christ demands an openness that is more than benign attention, more than token actions or halfhearted efforts that leave the poor as destitute as before or even more so. ...We cannot stand idly by, enjoying our own riches and freedom, if, in any place, the Lazarus of the 20th century stands at our doors.”

Again, we are invited through the Scriptures, to consider our use of money and where it can take us.  The wealthy from the world of the prophet Amos, those lying-in luxury eating lamb chops for lunch, sipping Beaujolais from bowls, and humming along with the harp---their wealth has made them sluggish, indifferent, and insulated.  “Off into exile,” shouts Amos. “The love of money,” St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “is the root of all evils” (1 Timothy 6:10).  Though this line falls just outside the passage we hear today, it resonates powerfully with both the first reading and the Gospel.  Perhaps Paul had this in mind when he advised Timothy, “Tell (the rich) to do good . . . . to be generous, ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:18).  Jesus taught love of God and love of neighbor.  Love of money is a chasm that separates us from those ideals. Have I created a chasm between myself and poor, filthy Lazarus?  How can I bridge it before it’s too late?

Written in the bulletin of the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time.