“Life is short and time is valuable,” is an old saying. It is used to encourage the best use of the time we have. The saying has multiple connotations depending on the context in which it is used. A manager or supervisor might use the saying to encourage workers to fulfill their duties. Teachers or professors might employ the saying to motivate students for their studies. An individual might think of the saying when they are trying to accomplish something or finish a project.
Jesus invites us to reflect on several things as he tells us the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The unsatisfied needs of Lazarus as contrasted to the luxurious life of the rich man is one item. The eventual redemption of the suffering Lazarus is another, as is the judgment of the rich man.
Another theme is the disregard for the prophets and the foreshadowing of the rejection of the Gospel proclaimed by Jesus, the Son of Man, and His resurrection from the dead. Still another involves the use of our time while living in this world.
The rich man in the parable was concerned primarily for himself. The man clothed himself in “purple garments and fine linen.” Not only was his table plentiful, for he dined “sumptuously,’ but he did this “each day.” He gathered wealth for himself so that he might enjoy the “good things” of this world. His use of time centered on this type of living. The problem of neglect rises when Jesus introduces the figure of Lazarus.
Lazarus is used to provide a contrast to the rich man. Lazarus represents those who are the most needy, the ones who go without the most basic goods this world can provide, most notably food. The contrast is powerful. Lazarus is destitute. He is “covered in sores.” He is in need of shelter.
The poverty of Lazarus as compared to the luxury of the rich man is stressed when Jesus tells us that Lazarus “would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.” The scraps would have been more than enough to satisfy the need for food, so abundant was the rich man’s table.
The rich man’s neglect of Lazarus is highlighted by the fact that Lazarus laid at his door way. He could not have missed the sight as he entered his house day after day. The abundance of the rich man’s table compared with the urgent need right at his front door heightens the urgency of the situation. Lazarus is in urgent need of assistance; the rich man knows this but does nothing.
The question of time comes into play after Lazarus and the rich man both die. While Lazarus shares the protection and comfort of Abraham; the rich man is tormented in flames. The two are separated by a chasm that cannot be passed. When the rich man pleads for relief Abraham replies, “My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime, while Lazarus received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, while you are tormented.”
The rich man then pleads for Abraham to allow him to go warn his brothers. Abraham replies: “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.” The rich man’s use of his time in the world was self-satisfying. He had what he wanted and needed but he neglected the needs of others. His use of the time he had in this world was judged poor, hence his torment. The rich man was “satisfied” with his life and had become complacent.
Amos, one of the prophets, cries out in warning to the people of Israel. He calls them “complacent.” A popular dictionary defines “complacent” as one who is “showing smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements.” The complacency in Israel is tied to a life of luxury – “lying on beds of ivory,” “stretched comfortably on their couches,” eating “lambs from the flock” and “calves from the stall,” drinking wine “from bowls,” and anointing “themselves with the best oils.” They are so complacent and wrapped up in themselves that they fail to notice “the collapse of Joseph.”
Here the prophet refers to the state of their society itself, “the House of Joseph” being another way to refer to Israel. In other oracles Amos decried Israel for neglecting the poor, for idolatry, for dishonesty and for greed. The complacent waste time; time that could be spent on care and concern for the needy in their midst, for growth in personal goodness and virtue, for building a just society.
The Word of God invites us today to reflect on our use of the time we are given in life. What do we do with our time? Are we mindful of the less fortunate? Do we care for the needy in our midst? Do we notice the needs of the poor? Are we mindful of the homeless? Do we recognize the needs of people we encounter? Is our time spent on superfluous goods? Do we seek true goods? Do we listen to the Word of God and allow it to change our lives? Do we place our faith in God above all others including ourselves? How do we use the time given to us by God?
“Life is short and time is valuable.” Let’s make the most of it.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.