26th Sunday 2019
Amos 6:1, 4-7; I Tim 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31
Last Monday, as the community here knows, was a difficult day for me. I had to return to my old parish to celebrate the funeral Mass of a young man who had died at the age of 24 in a tragic accident, just weeks before he was due to be married.
I felt that there was little that I could say without sounding trite or patronising, so after a very few words about the Mass readings, I went to the congregation to ask Michael’s family to express briefly their thoughts and feelings about him. His fiancée couldn’t bring herself to speak, but his mother, father, brother and two sisters all had their say.
From all of them it was clear how highly Michael was regarded, how deeply he was loved. His sixteen year old sister commented “He was an annoying big brother, but the best big brother anyone could have.” At this point, her mother chipped in: “Don’t forget Andrew.” “Oh yes, him and Andrew,” a correction which brought rare laughter on an occasion when many were in tears, myself included at one point.
Now the family must adjust to a normality which will never be normal, as a vital component is missing, something of which his father David will be reminded every moment of every day, as Michael used to work with him on the farm. If you can spare some prayers for the Gornall family of Claughton (pronounced Clyton) you will be performing a work of charity.
“Fine,” you may say, “but what has that to do with the parable of Lazarus?” In a way, the family is what, in the science experiments of your and my schooldays, used to be called a control. I am sure that I can say that there is no Lazarus in that family; because, let’s face it, Lazarus isn’t only the homeless man begging in the city centre or the hungry child in the disaster zone. He IS these, but he is more. He is the awkward one , the outsider, the sore thumb, the difficult member of the family, the community, the neighbourhood.
Lazarus comes in both sexes and all ages. Maybe nobody is cruel to him/her, but remember: the rich man in the parable wasn’t cruel. Either he didn’t notice Lazarus, or he noticed him but chose to ignore him—and yet he was condemned.
Perhaps it is important for each of us to ask ourselves: is there a Lazarus in my circle, someone whom it isn’t easy to get on with? If so, what is my attitude to him/her? If we think about it, we may be shocked by the answer.
At the moment, I am one of a number of people trying to support a particular Lazarus in the person of a priest serving a long prison sentence for an offence which, not only did he not commit, but it would have been impossible for him to commit. Our bishop, and the Archbishop of Liverpool, are being very positive in their attitude, but the priest’s own bishop has taken on the role of the rich man in the parable, doing nothing for Lazarus, parroting the claim “We have to trust the Justice System. There is no reason not to trust the Justice System.”
In response to that, I was able to quote to him no less an authority than the recently retired Detective Sergeant from the Cumbria Constabulary PPU, the unit which deals with sexual allegations and offences, who commented, “This is the one offence where you are guilty until proven innocent. You cannot rely on juries.”
I also pointed out to the bishop in question that it will be very serious if, on the Day of Judgement, the only person willing to speak for him should be Pontius Pilate. Had Bishop Swarbrick not undertaken to arrange a meeting to seek a way of working together to help Lazarus, and suggested that, in the meantime, it may be best not to contact the rich man, I might have added a few choice words about today’s parable.
There is many a Lazarus in the world. Do we notice him/her? If not, why not? And do we do our utmost to help?