That year was a bad one in all of Galilee. The summer storms had ruined all the harvests. The wheat crop, the rye and the olive groves were destroyed. Hunger came like a plague and knocked at every door and the epidemics and desperation consequently followed. The farmers sold at any price the fruits of the next harvests which had not even been sown. The usurers had a heyday and loaned money with an interest rate of 80 to 90 percent. More and more beggars mushroomed into the cities each day. Capernaum was not spared from them….
Jesus: Look John, there they go again…
John : Yeah, they’ll sit in front of Eleazar’s house and stay there the whole day waiting for the garbage to be disposed so they can scavenge melon skins or some scrap meat…
Jesus: No, no, it can’t go on like this!
John: Today it’s the peasants, but tomorrow, it’s gonna be us, Jesus, the fishermen of the lake. Then, the artisans. This will never end.
Jesus: Let’s join them, John. Let’s stay in front of Eleazar’s house….
Beggar: What are you talking about, Nazarene?… about God?… Bah!.. God doesn’t listen to us. He’s deaf.
Jesus: No, He’s not deaf. You haven’t shouted loud enough for Him to hear. Is that right, John?
John: Exactly. Come, let us shout all together until the rocks tremble and split!
Jesus: Until the God of Heaven hears the screams of the hungry and gives us a hand…
Beggar: Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s all scream!
All: Aaah!… Aaah!… Aaah…!
Jesus: One night, God was taking a rest up in heaven, and Abraham passed in front of His door…
God: Ah, my friend Abraham, come…!
Abraham: At your service, my Lord.
God: Abraham, what’s going on down there, that I hear a lot of noise?… Don’t you hear it? Listen well…
Beggars: Aaah!… Aaah…! Aaah…!
Abraham: It’s like the rumbling of thunder promising a storm. Or it could be the roaring of an impending earthquake.
God: You’re wrong, Abraham. Nothing of the sort. Listen well…
Beggars: Aaah! Aaah!… Aaah!…
God: These are men and women weeping and screaming. And the children too. Don’t you hear? They’re my children, Abraham! Something terrible must be happening to them. Come, go down immediately to earth and find out what’s the matter. I’ll be waiting for you.
Abraham: At your service, my Lord. I’m going right away.
Jesus: And old Abraham put on his sandals, took his cane and headed as rapidly and obediently as before, when he left Ur of Chaldea, for an unknown land… Soon enough, a perspiring Abraham returned and faced the Lord…
God: So you’re back, Abraham.
Abraham: Yes, my Lord. I was there for only a few seconds and my ears almost burst because of the noise. The yelling of the people was like boiling water, or a volcano about to explode. Their cries can be heard from all four corners of the earth.
God: Tell me what’s wrong. Why are my children screaming?
Abraham: Because they’re hungry.
God: They’re hungry? Why, that can’t be. When I created the earth at the beginning, I planned everything well. Do you think I’m irresponsible?… No, I planted many fruit trees, sowed many seeds that would give them abundant food, created the birds that fly in the sky, and the fish in the rivers and the animals that provide delicious meat on earth. I created everything so that people would have food to eat. This doesn’t include the wealth that’s hidden in the bowels of the earth and in the seas. They can’t be hungry. Everything was well planned. There’s sufficient food for everyone on earth. Why is this happening now?
Abraham: You have forgotten one important detail, Lord.
God: What is it?
Abraham: Human beings. They’ve taken it upon themselves to divide the land… do you see what I mean?
God: I think so… “The one who divides gets the lion’s share”… Is that it?
Abraham: Exactly. This is what a group of people have done… to own everything. They have all the food hoarded in their barns.
God: What about the rest?
Abraham: They’re the ones shouting at the doors of the rich, waiting for the garbage to be thrown out of the window so they can get the spoils and eat them. They’re starving.
God: I can’t believe what you’re saying, my friend Abraham… Is this what my children on earth are doing?
Abraham: Just as I have said, my Lord.
God: Hearing all this, Abraham, I’m about to lose my patience. I’m so enraged that I feel I want to summon all the clouds in heaven, as I had done before during the time of Noah, to bring the floods and submerge the earth in water. Why, I’m too ashamed to have them as my children, whose hearts are not made of flesh but of stone.
Abraham: What can we do now, my Lord?
God: Have you forgotten that I am the judge of heaven and earth?… Michael, Raphael, Gabriel and Uriel, come right away!
Jesus: And, without batting an eyelash, the archangels presented themselves before the Lord….
God: I will mete out judgment on earth. I want you to descend to earth immediately and bring me one of those crying out in hunger, that he may give his declaration. Then bring me one of those who are feasting, one whose stomach is full, as well as his granaries. I am going to question the two. Come on, move fast!
Jesus: So the four archangels turned and immediately descended to earth, where the screams were heard. Michael and Raphael grabbed one of those dying of hunger by the shoulders, while Gabriel and Uriel did the same to a rich man who was also dying, not of hunger but of extreme self-indulgence… The two were brought before God’s tribunal…
God: The meeting may now come to order. You, what’s your name?
Lazarus: Lazarus, my Lord.
God: You’re one of those creating a lot of noise down there, aren’t you?
Lazarus: Yes, Lord.
God: Will you tell us why you and your friends are screaming so much?
Lazarus: Because our children are dying of hunger, because our wives don’t even have a drop of milk in the breast with which to feed them. Our men are so weak that their knees tremble for not having eaten for seven days. That’s why we’re crying out loud. Day and night we do this, that justice may fall upon us… Look at me, my Lord… You can count my ribs one by one… I’m all skin and bones. My wounds are all over my body and dogs come to lick them and I allow this because their saliva eases the pain.
God: Stop my son. That’s enough… Do you want to ask him anything, Abraham?
Abraham: You said you’re hungry… Some say this happens because you hate to work, that you’re a bum.
Lazarus: No, Father Abraham, it’s not true. All our lives we do nothing but work and sweat. We toil like animals. The rich drink our sweat and suck our blood. They wring us like grapes in the pressing field, and like olives under a millstone. These are the people who hoard everything but won’t even give the crumbs from their table for us to eat.
Jesus: God was teary-eyed while he listened to poor Lazarus’ account. Then, God stood up, walked a few steps, and faced the rich man…
God: Who are you?
Epulon: My name is Epulon.
God: What can you say about the declaration of Lazarus?
Epulon: Well, to tell you frankly, I don’t know anything about it…
God: Of course you do!… Unless you’re deaf!… I know you can hear perfectly well. Why didn’t you listen to these people seated in front of your house and crying out in hunger, begging you to share with them what you had in excess?… I heard them from heaven… Why didn’t you hear them when you were just beside them?
Epulon: Lord, I… You know? There was a lot of noise at the party, so I couldn’t hear.
God: Liar! Now you’ll hear. Open your ears ’cuz I am going to pass judgment: You’re being accused of murder, rich man Epulon; for having killed your brothers and sisters of hunger or having allowed them to die, which is the same thing.
Epulon: But Lord, the farm, as well as the wheat and barns, are mine. They’re all my property… Why should I give to someone whose name I don’t even know?
God: Mine, mine, all you can say is mine! Who gave you the right to claim what’s not yours? I created this world and every¬thing in it. I created it from the beginning and it’s mine. I lease to anyone I like… Who’re you? You were naked when you came out of your mother’s womb and will return naked to the womb of the earth… The only thing that’s yours are the ashes; they’re your only property.
Epulon: Have mercy, Lord, have mercy on me…
God: You never had pity on your brothers and sisters. You wished to be alone and you’ll remain alone forever.
God: Lazarus, come and take a rest. You’ve suffered enough.
Lazarus: I can’t, my Lord. How can I when my companions continue to scream down on earth?… Don’t you hear them?
God: You’re right, son… Look, I’ve thought of something better. I’m going down with you to earth. Abraham!
Abraham: At your service, Lord.
God: Lend me your sandals.
Abraham: Yes, my Lord.
God: You stay here, Abraham. Here you’ll find peace and glory, but on earth, there’s hell from the egoism of some. I’m needed down there by my children who’re crying out for justice.
Abraham: Lord, are you out of your mind? How can you leave your house in heaven?
God: It’s alright. My home is down there with the homeless, with thousands of people like Lazarus, who know not where to go. Goodbye, Abraham, and take care of everything until I come back. Let’s go Lazarus, and hurry. We’ll start a Kingdom of Justice for the poor people of the world. From now on and forever, I’ll be with you each day, until things have finally changed.
Beggar: But things have remained the same, countryman. We’re tired of screaming… and the landlord’s house remains closed. Eleazar is selfish and cruel, like the rich man in your story.
Jesus: We can’t expect much from him and from people like him, but look, other doors will be opened for you… Hi, Madame Anna, will you come over for a minute!
Neighbor: What’s the matter? What’s this noise around? My ears are almost bursting because of it!
Beggar: We’re hungry.
Neighbor: Well, the truth is I don’t have much to spare, but…. Let’s see if can add more water to the soup!
Old Samuel opened his door too, and Joanne, the wife of Lolo. Deborah did the same, as well as Simeon the hunchback…
The poor people’s doors were opened to welcome poorer ones… Yes, the Kingdom of God was close to us….
In Palestine, as in the rest of the ancient world, natural catastrophes – which people did not know how to prevent or control – were a cause for great starvation periodically besieging the country. Intense droughts, hurricanes, and torrential rains destroyed the harvests, the main source of income for most people. This state of starvation was an index for a drastic increase in the price of basic foods. The number of beggars grew in the cities and on the roadsides. Speculators and hoarders took advantage of the situation, which is exactly what happens nowadays.
There exists in all cultures stories describing the twist of fate befalling people in history. These are ways of expressing people’s rebellion against acts of injustice committed in history. On the basis of this, Jesus narrated the parable of the rich man, Epulon (“opulent”) and the poor man, Lazarus. In these parables, Jesus tries to show his listeners, dramatically, the demands of justice in the gospel. The name Lazarus – meaning “God helps” – is important in the parable: God helps the poor, in as much as in this life he has been “one who is worthless.”
In the parable, God judges the rich and the poor in the persons of Epulon and Lazarus. He shares in the pain experienced by the poor. On the other hand, the rich are deaf to the poor’s cry of anguish. Wealth hardens people’s heart and plugs their ears. That is why the rich cannot enter the Kingdom of God – which is a kingdom of equality – unless they renounce wealth.
In our present world there is enough food for everyone everywhere. There are sufficient raw materials to provide every family a decent way of life. It is not true that the world is overpopulated. The majority of the third world countries are underpopulated. It is also a fallacy that population is the cause of poverty for millions of people. Many do not have because a few people have an excess. God does not condone this situation. He created the world in abundance: its riches, fruits, mines, all for everyone’s benefit. But the ambition of a few widens the gap between the rich and the poor day by day. God hears the cries of anguish, of protest and rebellion of the poor, and He responds by taking their cause as His own. God grieves by their side and fights with them too. The cause of liberation of the poor in this world is God’s cause. Equality obtained among people in this world means the realization of the message of Jesus in the Gospel.
Although the parable talks of something beyond, of justice that God will give in the next life, the constant message in the Gospel is applicable to the present. That is why, in this episode, God wears Abraham’s sandals and goes down the earth to immediately start the liberation of the hungry: This is Jesus, God’s messenger, who tells us that God is in a hurry to carry out his plan to distribute the earth’s riches among his children on earth.
To be a Christian is to say “This is ours,” and not “This is mine.” The rich persist in defending property, and in doing so, contradict God’s plan. St. Ambrose said: “Don’t give to the poor what is yours, but give him back what is his. This is so because you claim as your own what is common property and what has been given for the benefit of all. The land belongs to all, and not only to the rich.” (Book of Naboth). It is Christian to share, to create a community, and to share one’s wealth. The poor are often freer and more capable than the rich to share the little that they have, and to learn the value of saying “ours.”
This parable has always been used to discourse on hell and a cruel God who denies the rich man, Epulon, even a drop of water, who almost gets converted upon learning of the punishment that awaits him… Jesus does not want to scare anyone with the flames of hell nor present a vindictive God. What he wants to show us is the severity, the radicalness of God’s judgment, which cannot be swayed by the rich people’s alibis. It is very clear that in the Kingdom of God, there is no place for those who refuse to help alleviate the misery of others: Only those who share their food with the hungry shall find a place beside God.