Pope Francis’ reflection at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square was built around the question on “poverty and mercy”. He took cue from the Gospel parable of Lazarus and the rich man. “Their living conditions – Francis begun – are opposite and lack communication. The front door of the rich is always closed to the poor, lying out there, trying to eat some leftovers from the rich man’s table. The letter wears luxury clothes, whereas Lazarus is full of sores; the rich fares sumptuously every day, whereas Lazarus is starving. Only dogs are taking care of him, coming to lick his sores.”
This scene, the Pope continues, “recalls the hard reproach of the Son of man in the final judgment: ‘I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink’. Lazarus represents the silent cry of the poor of all time and the contradiction of a world where vast wealth and resources are in the hands of a few persons.” “Jesus says that one day that man,” the rich one, “died: the poor and the rich die, they share the same fate. All of us, huh? There are no exceptions to it… This is when that man talked to Abraham, begging him and calling him ‘father’. Therefore, he claims to be his son and belong to the people of God. Yet, he had not shown any consideration for God in his life, putting himself at the center of everything, and closing up in his own world of luxury and waste. Excluding Lazarus, he did not take any account of neither the Lord nor His law.”
“Ignoring the poor – the Pope insisted – means despising God! We have to learn it well: ignoring the poor means despising God.” The Pope noted that in the parable, “the rich man has no name, only an adjective: the rich; while that of the poor is repeated five times, and Lazarus means ‘God helps’. Lazarus, lying in front of the door, is a living reminder for the rich to remember God, but the rich does not receive this message. He will be condemned not for his wealth, but for having been unable to feel compassion for Lazarus and help him.”
In the second part of the parable, after the death of the two protagonists, “the situation – Francis explained – has been reversed: angels take Lazarus to heaven, close to Abraham, whereas the rich falls into torment.” When the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger into the water to bring him a bit ‘of relief, the Epulone shows for the first time – the Pope notes – that he knows the poor man whom he had always ignored in life: “now the rich recognize Lazarus and asks for help, while in life he had pretended not to see him,” Francis said, adding off the cuff: “How many times – how many times! – so many people pretend not to see the poor! For them, the poor do not exist.”
Abraham, however, tells the rich man that it is impossible to meet his request for help. His refusal, the Pope points out, is “the key to the whole story: he explains that good and evil have been distributed to compensate earthly injustice, and the door that separated the rich from the poor in life has turned into ‘a huge abyss’. As long as Lazarus was in front of his house, there was a chance of salvation for the rich: to open the door and help Lazarus… but now that they are both dead, the situation has become irreparable. God is never directly called upon, but the parable clearly warns us: God’s mercy toward us is connected to our mercy towards the neighbor; When we lack the latter, there is no room for the former in our closed heart, it cannot come in. If I do not throw open the door of my heart to the poor, that door remains closed. Even for God. And this is terrible.”
When Abraham answers the rich man that his brothers, “who are likely to end up like himself, can save themselves by listening to “Moses and the prophets”, the parable – Francis explains – teaches us that “we should not wait for miraculous events to convert, but open heart to the Word of God who calls us to love God and our neighbor. The Word of God can revive a withered heart and heal its blindness. The rich man knew the Word of God, but did not let it in his heart, he has not listened to it, he has not welcomed it in his heart; that is why he was unable to open his eyes and have pity on the poor.”
“No messenger and no message – Francis concludes – will replace the poor we meet along our way, because Jesus himself comes towards us in them: ‘All you have done to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’, Jesus says. Thus, in the fate reversal described in the parable hides – the Pope says – the mystery of our salvation, in which Christ unites poverty at the mercy”.