If we don’t show mercy to others we shouldn’t expect to get it from God, Pope Francis said, stressing that while turning a blind eye to the poor might make life on earth easier, the eternal result will be much different.
“To ignore the poor is to despise God! We must learn this well: to ignore the poor is the despise God,” the Pope said May 18.
He spoke to the thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his general audience, continuing his ongoing catechesis on mercy as understood through scripture.
Francis focused his speech on the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus, a poor beggar who laid outside the man’s house every day, asking for the leftover scraps from his table.
Both men eventually die, and the rich man, who ignored Lazarus and denied him the scraps, is tormented by constant fire and an insatiable thirst, whereas Lazarus is “carried by the angels” to heaven and comforted.
During their lives, “the door of the rich man’s house is always closed to the poor man,” the Pope observed, noting that the rich man wore expensive, luxurious clothing and ate lavish feasts every day, Lazarus starved and was covered in sores, with only the dogs to lick his wounds.
This scene, he said, is reminiscent “of the harsh rebuke of the Son of Man at the final judgement.”
“Lazarus represents well the silent cry of the poor in all ages and the contradiction of a world in which immense riches and resources are in the hands of the few,” he said, noting that eventually everyone, rich and poor alike, will die, just like Lazarus and the rich man in the parable.
Francis pointed out that after both of them die, the tormented rich man appeals to Abraham for help, calling him “father.”
By using this word, the rich man is claiming to belong to the people of God, yet during his life “he showed no consideration for God, and in fact, he made himself the center of everything, closed in his world of luxury and waste.”
Pope Francis then noted how in the parable, the rich man does not have a name, but is only referred to as “rich,” while Lazarus, the name of the poor man, is repeated five times.
Lazarus had served as a living reminder to the rich man to remember God, but the rich man did not welcome the opportunity, he said, explaining that in the end, the rich man “will be condemned not for his wealth, but for having been incapable of feeling compassion for Lazarus and assisting him.”
The Pope then turned to the second part of the parable in which the tormented rich man, upon seeing Lazarus being comforted by Abraham, seems to see the poor man for the first time.
But the rich man’s words immediately betray him, the Pope said, recalling how the man asked Abraham to “send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger into the water to cool my tongue, because I am suffering terribly in the flame.”
Suddenly the rich man recognizes Lazarus and knows his name, “while in life he pretended not to see him,” Francis said, lamenting how all too frequently “so many people pretend not to see the poor! For them the poor don’t exist.”
After first denying the poor man the leftovers from his table, the rich man now asks Lazarus to fetch him something to drink, Francis said, noting that the rich man “still believes he is able to claim rights based on his previous social condition.”
In turn, Abraham’s response that the good and evil bestowed on the two men in the afterlife is meant “to compensate for earthly justice,” offers the key to the whole parable, the Pope said.
As long as Lazarus sat outside his house, the rich man had the opportunity for salvation, yet he denied it and “the situation has become irreparable.”
“God’s mercy toward us is linked to our mercy toward others,” Francis warned, cautioning that if this aspect is missing from our attitude, God’s mercy “cannot find space inside our closed hearts, it can’t enter.”
“If I don’t throw open the door of my heart to the poor, that door stays closed. Even for God. And this is terrible.”
Pope Francis observed that when the rich man then asks if he can warn his friends and relatives, Abraham responds by telling him they have Moses and the prophets.
If we want to convert, we don’t have to wait for “miraculous events,” but must instead make the decision to open our hearts to the World of God, which calls us to love both God and neighbor,” the Pope said.
“The Word of God can revive a withered heart and cure its blindness,” he said, adding that “the rich man knew the Word of God, but didn’t allow it to enter his heart, he didn’t listen to it, and because of this, he was unable to open his eyes and have compassion for the poor man.”
Francis closed his address by stressing that “no messenger and no message can replace the poor we meet on the journey, because in them we meet Jesus himself.”
He encouraged all to pray alongside Mary, who in her canticle to God said: “you have cast down the mighty from their thrones and have exulted the lowly, you have filled the hungry with good things, and the rich you have sent away empty.”