I heard someone ask this question once, apparently sparked by the importance the gospel seems to give to the poor. Before going any further, it’s important to remind ourselves from the beginning that nobody, absolutely nobody, is denied the possibility to go to heaven. Passport to heaven is not based on social status or one’s bank account. What matters is what we do with what we’ve got.
In a very well-known passage in chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus sets the criteria for taking our “inheritance, the kingdom prepared for us since the foundation of the world.” I was hungry, and you gave me to eat, he tells us. Thirsty and you gave me to drink, naked and you clothed me, and so on. Jesus’ words leave no room for doubt.
Today’s gospel passage presents us with two very different people. One of them is rich. We don’t know his name. All we know is that he organized banquets every day, and dressed himself in linen and purple—stuff of royalty! The other one is poor, named Lazarus. He had nothing to eat. Moreover, the rich man never thought of helping out the poor one. Jesus graphically tells us that, after their death, the poor man goes to heaven, consoled in Abraham’s arms, while the rich man found himself in the flames of Hades. Nothing is said about whether they were good or bad people, whether they obeyed all the laws, whether they went to the temple. The rich man is not necessarily evil. He just locks himself in his mansion, enjoying his luxurious lifestyle. The only criteria for the rich man’s condemnation was his indifference towards the plight of Lazarus.
Sometimes we might think that to hate someone is the worst evil we can do. I strongly believe that indifference is worse than hatred! When you hate someone, you are at least acknowledging that person’s existence, giving him some importance in your life. When you are indifferent to someone, on the other hand, it is as if that person did not even exist for you. You are depriving him not only of love and attention, but even from the very right to exist! Like the rich person in today’s parable, you would be closing yourself up in your own mansion, totally oblivious of the other person at your doorstep.
Indeed, the problem is not money or riches. The real question is, “What do I do with what I have?” Do I lock myself up in my own little mansion? Or do I use what has been given to me to help others?