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Can the guilty rich repent?


The photograph of Juanito, a street boy, 14, dressed in nothing but dirty shorts, his only earthly possession. He was poverty personified.

He is seen as skinny, the bones are outlined through his sickly skin, his eyes are dark and hollow and there is a septic wound on his left elbow. He was hit by a passing vehicle when begging for food. I took that photo the day we found him and brought him to the PREDA home for street boys to be treated, fed and given a new start in life. He was transformed and unrecognizable after a year.

When Jesus of Nazareth told the story of the starving beggar Lazarus lying outside the gates of Mr. Rich (Dives) where the only compassion and care he got for his septic sores was from the dogs that came and licked his wounds to try and heal him. No human showed such compassion. Least of all Mr. Rich who was dressed in fine clothes and dined stupendously every day from a table that groaned with the weight of rich food and drink. There was bread there too because in the story Mr. Rich was so mean and selfish that he would not even give the crumbs that fell on the floor to the dying beggar.

The life of Mr. Rich a grim picture of greed and selfishness and a degenerate life of some of the rich and wealthy of this world. The story goes on to tell of what happens when they both die and go to the after life. Mr. Rich is cast to the burning loneliness of hell and Lazarus is welcomed into paradise. Mr. Rich calls to Father Abraham for Lazarus to come and give him a drop of water but it is not allowed. There is no forgiveness after the final curtain call and Abraham tells Mr. Rich that he had it all in his earthly life and there is no crossing over and no way out.

Lazarus had it rough but in the end he was sinless and deserving of paradise. There is a glimmer of a partial answer to the question of suffering and evil in the world. How could a good and loving God allow suffering and starvation? Jesus’ story puts the responsibility for suffering and evil squarely on those who cause it by their selfish, greedy choices not to share and help others. In this story he singles out the irresponsible rich. Mr. Rich has free will, which is what makes him a person, much more exalted than dogs. But his greed puts him on a level lower than the dogs that alone show compassion to Lazarus and try to heal his sores.

In the climate of economic hardship the news that some of the super rich of France are having a guilty time of it and have asked the government to charge them higher tax rates is astounding. They must be having a Lazarus moment as the Western World careers towards economic collapse all because of the greed of the rich. Perhaps they are not going to wait for the Lazarus people of this world to condemn them as being less compassionate than dogs.

One of the world’s richest men, billionaire Warren Buffett (who lives a very simple life style) says its wrong that he pays less tax than his employees. Now the super rich of France are struck with the wave of guilt or is it just more greed? They say they want to help France overcome its huge deficit. The rich don't pay taxes and the French government borrowed to deliver public services and is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Sixteen of the richest people signed a letter to the government of France saying in effect that they want the government to impose a temporary "Special Contribution" tax on them to help the economy. Out of the thousands of super rich only 16 signed the letter.

It seems generous but it’s really self-serving. They and their corporations made billions by paying hardly any tax and benefiting from the EU business friendly system and they want to preserve it. So to prevent the collapse of their own businesses they will pay more tax to the government until the economy improves. Then they will go back to their old bad ways and make it all back again by overpricing, exploitation and unfair practices. The advice of Jesus to the rich young man who wanted to be his disciple was "go sell all you have, give to the poor and come follow me". That was the price of friendship but today perhaps the rich could do good and give a big lump of their money to the starving.

The thousands of Juanito’s and Lazarus people in the world will go on increasing. The bodies pile up in Somalia and the rich get richer and poorer get poorer. Only by making and implementing a really just taxation and delivering a just society can governments solve this crisis.

By Father Shay Cullen

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