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Who Do You Say That I Am? - Part 45

XLV. Pope Benedict next considers a third major parable in Luke: the Rich Man and Lazarus. Here too the story is well known to us, with the two contrasting characters of the unnamed rich man who carouses daily in luxury, and Lazarus, in terminal poverty.

In the background is the consistent Scriptural theme that the Lord hears the cry of the poor, defends the weak, rescues the afflicted. One can understand how the human logic arose: the good are rewarded; and somehow the rewarded must therefore be the good. In other words, those who suffer must have some fault, some punishment they have merited; the poor are objects of God’s concern, but only because of God’s goodness, for the innocent do not suffer.

Yet Israel’s experience of the Exile, as well as the observation of human life suggested that in fact even the good may suffer. Writings like the Book of Job, several of the Psalms (especially Psalm 73), and other passages in Scripture reflect a struggle with these two realities: trust in God’s justice and holiness, and the reality that even good people may experience loss, illness, tragedy. This becomes not just a theoretical problem, but a temptation to abandon faith in God.

As Psalm 73 puts it: “For I was envious of the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pains; their bodies are sound and sleek … they are not stricken like other men. … All in vain I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence … my heart was embittered.” The doubts are clear, and remain valid today for many: does God not see? Does he not hear? Does he really not care about our destiny?

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