Prosperity, Human Dignity, Reward, and Punishment
“Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus received what was bad, but now he is comforted here, and you are in torment.”
Mattie Dixon lived all of her life in a small town. She didn’t have a will; she hadn’t taken care of anything before she died at the age of eighty-nine.
Mattie was a widow. She couldn’t have children; but she had some distant great grand-nieces, nephews, and cousins – maybe. They didn’t attend her funeral; they didn’t really know her. They didn’t know what to do; what would happen to the house, the property, the mementos and the personal effects and all!
Finally, the taxes and other bills had to be paid. So the auctioneer came, and strangers crawled around all the personal effects of Mattie Dixon. There was her wedding ring, one of those heavy ones. When Mattie was alive, if you said to her, “Mattie, I love that ring, I’ll give you a thousand dollars for it,” she would turn that ring on her finger and say, “Fifty-six years of faithful marriage, and you want to buy this? I wouldn’t sell you this for ten million dollars!”
Then came day of the auction. The gavel of the auctioneer came down. “Sold! Two dollars.”
Today we hear about the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. This parable disposes of two common errors: first, it disposes the idea of those who deny the survival of the soul after death and, therefore, think they avoid possible punishment and retribution in the next life; and secondly, it disposes the belief about those who interpret material prosperity in this life as a reward for moral correctness, and trial, tribulation and poverty in this life as a punishment.
This parable also teaches that, immediately after death, the soul is judged by God for all its acts — its “particular judgment” — and is either rewarded or punished; and that divine revelation is by itself sufficient for us to be able to believe in the next life.
Furthermore, in another area, the parable teaches the inherent dignity of every human person, independently of their social, financial, cultural or religious position. And respect for this dignity implies that we must help those who are experiencing any material or spiritual need.
A practical consequence of respect for the dignity others is proper distribution of material resources and protection of human life, especially unborn life, as Pope Paul VI pleaded with the General Assembly of the United Nations, when he said: “Respect for life, even with regard to the great problem of the birth rate, must find here in your assembly its highest affirmation and its most reasoned defense. You must strive to multiply bread so that it suffices for the tables of mankind, and not rather favor an artificial control of birth, which would be irrational, in order to diminish the number of guests at the table of mankind and at the banquet of life in heaven.”
Earthly possessions are temporary and passing things: death marks their end, and also the end of our testing-time, our capacity to sin or to merit reward for doing good; and immediately after death we begin to enjoy our deserved reward or to suffer our deserved punishment, whichever the case may be. The Magisterium of The Church has defined that the souls of all who die in the grace of God enter heaven, immediately after death or after first undergoing a purging, if that’s what’s necessary. We believe in eternal life. We believe that the souls of all those who die in the grace of Christ — whether they must still make expiation in purgatory, or whether from the moment they leave their bodies they are received by Jesus into Paradise and go to form that people of God which is victorious over death – death which will be totally destroyed on the last day of the general resurrection when these souls are reunited with their glorified bodies.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the rich man confronts us with the question of wealth: what is of true value, what we fool ourselves into thinking is important, and how we use and misuse the things God has given us. Like Mattie Dixon’s wedding ring, what is of true and lasting value is determined, not by scales and actuary tables, but by the things of God.
Amassing large estates and building up profitable stock portfolios are not the stuff that true goodness and holiness are made of. We will be remembered not for what we take or make, but for what we give! Our legacy in eternity will be the good we do to make our world a happier and holier place by building up the kingdom of God here on earth, and especially for the least of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Mary, Refuge of Sinners, pray for us!