Jesus says when we die we’ll go to either Heaven or Hell: the poor man died and was carried. . .to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died. . . ‘In his torment in Hades.
But how can a loving God send people to Hell? To answer this question we first need to know what Heaven and Hell are. And its very simple: Heaven is simply being with God for eternity. But since some persons – like the demons and some human beings – don’t want communion with God, God respects their freedom and permits them to live away from him. And that’s what Hell is: separation from God. Now God doesn’t want people to be separated from him: we know that because he did all he could, he gave his own life to prevent that. But because God loves us, he doesn’t force himself on us: so if while we are alive we try to be with him and live the truth, our soul will simply continue living like that for eternity – in Heaven; and if while we’re alive we reject him and the truth, our soul will simply keep living that for eternity – in Hell.
And that Hell is horrible: as Jesus warns us, I am in agony in these flames.” The flames Jesus is talking are far worse than fire. They are the cold flames of a never-answered anxiety for love and wholeness: alone in the darkness for eternity. Yet as agonising as Hell is, Heaven’s joy is infinitely better. Lazarus is in the bosom of Abraham. . .being comforted here, that is, continually enveloped with and filled with perfect love and intimacy.
This is why Jesus complains about the rich partygoers in the First Reading: Woe to those ensconced so snugly in Zion. . .Lying on ivory beds and sprawling on their divans, they dine on lambs from the flock, and stall-fattened veal. It doesn’t mean that God anti-party: we know from the Gospels that Jesus was a partygoer. Nor does it mean God is anti-rich people – although it is true that it is harder for the rich to get to Heaven. The real problem with these rich people is not that they’re rich, but the way they use their riches – to forget about the poor and the world’s troubles, rather than using their goods to help them.
But why do I have to share my hard-earned money with people who have not worked for it? The reason is that for anything good we have, fundamentally, we did not earn it and we don’t deserve it. Sure, I did work hard, and that is good and noble, and it is irresponsible not to work to the extent that I can. But we can only do that because we are already in circumstances that we did not invent ourself: it is not us who decided we’d be born in a relatively well-off country, with excellent sanitation, peace and stability, education, job availability, good health, even that I exist – all these things are an undeserved gift from God who for gave them to me but not to billions across the world.
Does this make God unfair? No: God has not neglected them – he has given these goods for them too. But he has given them to us, expecting that, of course, we will share with them. And if we don’t share, then it is us who are being unfair.
So how much should we share? I will say only three things about this:
- No one can tell you how much to give. . .except God who can, so at least once a year its good to ask him if we could give more.
- One good option might be to give 10%: the Church doesn’t say we must give 10% – but it might be a simple way of keeping ourselves accountable to the poor. And of course God can manage our finances much better than we can.
- While ensuring we fulfil our responsibilities, especially to our health and our families, we should also be able to say, whatever we give, that we give generously to the poor. Because God is generous with you. And me.
Let us this week take time to ask him if we can share more to the poor. Amen