The idea that seriousness means sadness is quite widespread, and that any form of seriousness adds a heavy weight to our lives. We often go in search of jollity and lightheartedness.
Yet when we decide to entrust ourselves to a doctor or a teacher, when we have to pay a professional, when we are called to express our vote, one of the first qualities we look for in our interlocutor is his or her seriousness, that is, his or her reliability: after all something precious is at stake, if not our very life!
One of the many contradictions of which we are unaware is that we often demand seriousness in others, but then we go on to believe we can abandon ourselves to superficiality and lightheartedness; we do so with great gusto.
Joy and seriousness, however, are not in opposition to each other; on the contrary, one is generated by the other. The warning of the prophet Amos today is unequivocal: “woe to the carefree!” The fate of those who think they can take everything lightly is doomed to failure. Only a clear awareness of what is true and good allows us to make right and life-enriching choices.
The Apostle Paul echoes Amos in inviting those who belong to God to “strive for justice, piety, faith, charity, patience, meekness”. The Pope reminds us: “Wherever he went, he sowed seeds of peace and walked alongside the poor, the abandoned, the infirm and the outcast, the least of his brothers and sisters” (Fratelli Tutti, 2). This is the lifestyle of a serious person, a style that is a harbinger of joy, full of good for oneself and for others, even if marked by commitment, fatigue and, sometimes, adversity. This Gospel parable is a vivid representation of this.
The rich man is poor in love and deludes himself to fill the emptiness from within himself, devouring everything that falls under his gaze, living carefree, without taking life seriously. He does not even have a name. Tradition calls him Epulone/Dives that is, dedicated to banquets: his identity coincides with his illusory vice. However, on the Day of Judgment, the day when everything and everyone is unmasked and the truth emerges, his life turns out to be a radical failure, which can no longer be remedied.
Lazarus, on the other hand, whose name means “God helps” is almost forced to confront and clash with the seriousness of life. He seeks only what is essential, and the result of his effort is to participate in the fullness of Life and Love forever.
If we scrutinise this parable in depth, we grasp the richness of its details. If we do not forget that in each parable, before teaching us “how to stand before God”, Jesus teaches us “how God stands before us ”, then we discover the true secret to treasure today.
We all instinctively look to Lazarus, in the secret hope that someone will notice him and take care of him. But who takes care of Epulone/Dives and his emptiness of love? Lazarus is his true name: “God helps”, and not simply in the sense that “he is helped by God”, which tears him from the indifference of the rich. First of all, in Lazarus “God helps” the rich man, standing at his door, wounded and a beggar. His wounds cry out and his hunger is a plea almost to want to free Epulone/Dives from his imprisonment, from his isolation, from his lack of love. Epulone/Dives neglects Lazarus, and yet Lazarus truly and instinctively cares about Epulone/Dives.
Lazarus, in the symbolism of the parable, is Jesus Himself who sits at the door of our life. He cries out to us, we who are so enveloped in our own selves, so empty of love and so deceptively full of our silly lightheartedness. He silently begs us so that we can feed Him with our love, letting ourselves be loved by Him, letting ourselves be healed by His precious wounds, which like dogs, we should never stop licking.
Pope Francis expresses this theme in Laudato Si’ 64: the concept of sharing what we have with those in need, working with and for creation in order to benefit all humanity, so that when we are called to Father’s House, we are truly ready to meet Him.
Lazarus is “Jesus Christ who as rich as He was, made Himself poor for you (and me), so that you and I may become rich through His poverty” (2 Cor 8:9).
True seriousness is letting ourselves be loved by Jesus! In this rests our true joy and the best outcome for our lives.
* Custody of the Holy Land
By Fr John Luke Gregory ofm *