What a study in the contrast between heavenly and earthly success, we are given today! That which the world teaches us is of utmost desire and importance was achieved by this nameless rich man. He wore the finest clothes and lived and ate “sumptuously” every day. Great word, describes our idea of the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Is that our goal? To live the “sumptuous” dream, that life we are told could be ours next week if only we win the lotto. I’m sure the rich man had a great funeral and everyone in town knew of his passing. “Great guy old whatz his name.” Yes, we aren’t even told his name, his epitaph was simply “He died and was buried.” No “memory eternal” being sung here.
In contrast we are introduced to Lazarus who had to be “laid” at the gate of the rich man, as he was paralyzed and covered in sores. He received more comfort from the affection given from the local dogs than from the rich man. He would have been most grateful for the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Yet, we know his name, Lazarus means “God is my help.” His memory is eternal, remembered by God; and when Lazarus died, he was met by the angels and joyously escorted to heaven, to Abraham’s bosom.
In today’s gospel we hear this rich man begging Fr. Abraham across an uncrossable divide between Paradise and Hades, to just send the blessed Lazarus to him with a drop of moisture – the equivalent perhaps to one of the crumbs of bread that Lazarus longed for while alive in his suffering body. We learn that our lives continue far beyond the boundary of our physical death. That the purpose of our short lives here is to prepare us for our individual judgement and place in the true and everlasting kingdom of God.
Lazarus was laid at the gate of the rich man by his friends. What a wonderful godly action by those who brought him there. This was meant to be of benefit to the suffering Lazarus, but of even more value to the poor rich man, who was desperately poor in the eternal riches of the kingdom of God. And let’s face it, we resemble the rich man in this parable far more than we resemble Lazarus. The poor and the suffering are a great gift to us who have the means to help them. We can trade in a few quite worthless dollars that we often squander frivolously, and receive in return heavenly riches that are completely safe for all time from the ravages of thieves and inflation. St. John Chrysostom in explaining the great value of almsgiving says “For there is nothing more profitable than this trade and traffic. It is preformed on earth, but is completed in heaven….But it is not the amount of money given that can purchase heavenly things, but the disposition of the giver, as is shown by the gain of the widow who with her two mites gave more than all the rest.” Christ Himself says earlier in this chapter (Luke 16:9) “…make friends for yourself with unrighteous money, that when you fail they may receive you into an everlasting home. He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much.”
So, there is a very clear kingdom principle at work here.
For those of us who have wealth, it is not really ours; it is given or rather lent to us. Our wealth is not for our own use to live “sumptuous” lives. Its main purpose is so that we can be good stewards of that which the Father has entrusted us, for the benefit of them and ourselves. This is how we can convert “unrighteous money” into true riches for our salvation. St. Paul explains how almsgiving and the principle of equality is to work in the Church (2 Cor. 8:13,14) “For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack – that their may be equality.” And so we see in today’s parable, the result of not living in this manner. The extreme spiritual poverty of the rich man is not met because of his choosing to not meet the physical needs of Lazarus his “houseguest” when he could have easily done so.
If only the rich man had understood and acted upon this true wisdom, Lazarus would have been at the front of the line welcoming him into Abraham’s bosom and extolling his great generosity. What a wasted opportunity! Let us learn from this.
God is always bringing us these wonderful opportunities, laying Lazarus’ at the gate of our lives for us to benefit from. But of course, the choice is always ours, as to whether we close our eyes and step around the blessing, or recognize it and act, and benefit eternally from it. St. Isaac the Syrian says “The great sin is our lack of sensitivity to sin.” God never interferes with our choices. He has given each of us the great gift of free will as our birthright as His human creatures. God has foreknowledge of what we will do, but He does not interfere or pre-ordain our actions in any way. There is no past, present or future in eternity. (Heb. 4:13) “…all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” St. Porphyries of whom I am especially fond said; “He respects our freedom. He does not abolish it. He loves us; he does not make us slaves; He gives us worth. God does not intervene in our freedom; He respects it fully. Consequently, we are responsible, because we do what we want. God does not compel us…Consequently it is not God who pre-ordains and decides, but mans’ free will.” When we recognize Lazarus laying at the gate and respond, we are acting as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. It is our actions that transform us into God’s children and bring us into the kingdom. Our knowledge and good intentions are of no use unless they cause us to act.
Remember the sheep and the goats? (Matt. 25:33) “He will set the sheep on His right hand and the goats on His left.” Christ gives us a very practical and simple test to measure if our faith is real or theoretical. What did we do or not do for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the poor, the sick and the prisoners? In as much as we did or did not help the least of these, we did or did not minister to Christ Himself. Let us take heed. The Christian life is a life that calls us to action. Yes, God loves us beyond anything we can comprehend. That is why He provides countless opportunities for us to grow into the image and likeness of Christ. But we must choose to do these things, uniting our will with His. Our only opportunity to get this right, to establish ourselves solidly with Christ and His Church with the angels and saints is right now, during the very short time we are alive here on planet earth. Upon our death will our souls be found to have more in common with the prideful and selfish ways of the demons, or the God focused nature of the angels? We are taught by the fathers that after our death our soul’s inclination will not change but here on earth we have this freedom to repent and seek God.
The passage on the sheep and the goats starts out with (Matt. 25:31) “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.” We all have a guardian angel, and they are protecting us and fervently interceding for us, that we might choose to do the things that bring us closer to God and His kingdom. Notice all the angels will be gathered with Christ at the judgement seat. They will be defending us against the accusations of our enemy, the “accuser of the brethren.” Let us act upon the God-given opportunities that we are granted, that we might give our devoted and loving guardian angels something to work with. Everything will be revealed in the light of Christ. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, so a constant life of forgiveness and repentance is required of us. We are saved only through the grace and love of God, but we must choose to accept and grow in this gift now, while we are alive in the body.
The rich man failed to do anything to help poor Lazarus. He obviously knew his name as he calls out to Fr. Abraham asking for Lazarus to come and “dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame.” He doubtlessly walked by him several times daily as he came and went through his gate. Probably the first few times he considered doing something, but soon he hardly even noticed him as he stepped around him. Failure to act on our good intentions causes our hearts to crust over and become more insensitive. The time to act is always NOW, upon realizing what God would have us do. It is not wealth or poverty that has any bearing on how we fare at the final judgement. It is our acts and reaction to the circumstances we find ourselves in. Do we choose cursing or thanksgiving; faith in God or blaspheming, when things don’t go like we want them to? There are many who live in great luxury who are most miserable; constantly criticizing and cursing whatever small annoyances befall them. Many who are poor and sick are also bitter and despairing, cursing God for their miserable situation. But there are also those who have great riches who are known for their generosity and kindness; who are grateful for all the opportunities God brings to them to help others, and give thanks for all things. And there are also those blessed souls who live in poverty and sickness but who are joyous and thank God for all things. They are a great inspiration to us, demonstrating true faith, trusting that He truly is a good God who loves us and all of mankind.
The whole point of our journey here on planet earth is to become what we have been created to become – fully functioning children of God. Ultimately that will be the only criteria for success that means anything. What joy awaits us at our death – our entrance into true life – if we have used our time here on this short visit to planet earth to seek the kingdom of God. What horror and regret, wailing and gnashing of teeth will be ours if we frivolously pursue only a better earthly life – selfishly striving to live “sumptuously.” Let us learn from the state of the rich man and re-focus our lives accordingly, asking God to open our eyes to see the Lazarus’s at our gates. Those whom God sends us for our salvation, in His great mercy and love for us.
Glory to Jesus Christ!