Ebenezer Scrooge was luckier than the rich man's five brothers. For Scrooge, in Dickens's A Christmas Carol, a dead man did return in chains to warn him about the torments of the netherworld. In fact, Scrooge was luckier than most, at least in that sense. Scrooge was given a second chance, even when all seemed so sure to point toward his damnation. Scrooge's story is compelling and heartwarming in its claim that the stone-cold heart of a man can be changed so fully that he turns from his hatred of neighbor toward the freedom of love, generosity and justice. In the Lord's parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man receives no ghostly visions warning of his impending doom. Instead, for the rich man and for us, rather than spirits, it's men and women like Lazarus who literally provide a means for the salvation of many of us.
St. Basil the Great said as much in a homily on Christian charity: "How grateful you should be to your own benefactor; how you should beam with joy at the honor of having other people come to your door, instead of being obliged to go to theirs!" The imagery of the door is powerful here and anyone who has worked with the poor will know what a rich man's door means to a poor person.
At any Catholic Worker house, Vincent DePaul center, Salvation Army, and many parishes, men and women are willing to wait hours at the door just for someone to attend to their needs. Most of us are unaware, most of us don't bother to know, don't care to find out. Yet they are persistent, and just like Lazarus, though they deserve better, would gladly eat even the scraps that fell from the table. They will often arrive in the middle of the night and stay on the doorstep, hoping that the door will be opened to them in the morning. Just as Christ knocks at the door of our souls, there are any number of people who knock at the door of our hearts every day asking for money, food, hospitality, a kind word, forgiveness, a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, or even a job. What shall we say? I am poor with nothing to give you? St. Basil's answer was harsh, but clear: "A poor man you certainly are, and destitute of all riches; you are poor in love, generosity, faith in God and hope of eternal happiness."
The triumph of a rather merciless justice at the end of Jesus' parable is a drastic ultimatum. The good news, however, is that though the door was never opened to Lazarus, we have found ourselves begging at the door of the Divine Rich Man––God himself––and he has opened to us and he has fed us more than scraps. For us: someone has risen from the dead, and if his rising has not persuaded us, and all the holy men and women who have gone before us have not persuaded us that the Lazarus at our doorstep, at the highway intersection, and in the pew in front of us is our very own brother worthy of our care... then we are poor indeed.