There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’
But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’” Luke 16:19-31
Through the 2000 year history of Orthodoxy, many sermons have been preached on the Gospel parable of Lazarus and the rich man. The sermons have taken into account the time and place in which the sermon is given – using the Gospel lesson to shape a pertinent message to those listening to the Gospel. We encounter one such interpretation of the parable in a hymn from the last Wednesday of Great Lent. It is a message meant for monks in a monastery – people who have given up all claims to personal possession and sot social status. The parable is interpreted allegorically – it is not about opposing the rich to the poor but rather it is about “me”. For each monk is called upon to see themselves like the rich man – rich in the gifts from Christ – but poor like Lazarus, not in money but in spiritual understanding. I made reference to this interpretation of the Gospel lesson in a previous blog, Rich in Passions or Poor in Sin? . The Gospel is being proclaimed as the living Word of God, so it speaks to everyone who hears it, even those communities which have no distinction between rich and poor.
We could also see in the Gospel lesson how our blessings can blind us. The rich man is satisfied with his life, fat and happy. He feels blessed but because of this he sees little need to pay attention to the world beyond his household, or even beyond the table at which he sits eating sumptuously. The poor Lazarus is right at his door step, but the rich man has no reason to take notice of him. he is blinded by his blessings. It is something we Americans might want to think about. We too can be blinded by our prosperity, good fortune, possessions and blessings, thinking we are favored by God. In fact, we sing: America, God she His grace on thee. Exactly like the rich man, blind to the bigger picture of the world around him, or the smaller picture of the insignificant beggar lying neglected at his gate.
The Gospel lesson reminds us that life in this world is not all there is to our human life. There is the world which is to come. Abraham speaks even fondly to the rich man suffering in Hades: ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.’ Abraham tells the rich man, you had a blessed life on earth, but guess what that isn’t all there is to life. Life on earth is only a small part of the big picture. We like the rich man can be so absorbed with this life that we totally ignore that we will continue life in the world to come, and that life is not going to be merely a continuation of this life – that life involves answering for this life. The two lives are related, but connected by a judgment. This world alone is not the total story of humanity. There is life in the world to come, which is shaped by our life in this world. Like the rich man we can decide we have enough or we want more of this life, so no need to think about any life beyond the grave. However, life is more than one’s possessions. If we have been paying attention, we’ve heard Jesus say: (Luke 12:23) – For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. If we live for this world alone, we will wake up one day and realize we are some place we don’t want to be, and the chance to change that condition lies in the past, back on earth which we no longer can access.
I’ve heard it said that there is a saying attributed to the monks of Mt Athos which says, to enter into eternity, you must be able to see eternity in the eyes of another human – your neighbor, brother or sister, or in the eyes of a stranger. This of course requires that we have the eyes to see our neighbors, family members, fellow parishioners, or strangers. And not only do we have to take notice of them, but we have to look into their eyes, to really see who they are and how heaven is visible in their eyes. Otherwise, we are just the rich man of the parable, self absorbed in our own good enough lives, basking in what we think are our riches, enjoying our life while ignoring the chance to see eternity because we blind ourselves to others all around us. Ignoring the salvation which God is revealing to us in the people around us, we are the rich man satisfied with our own life and so cut ourselves off from others and their sorrows, needs and suffering. To see eternity in the eyes of another, we have to notice others exist and be open to seeing eternity in them. The rich man was oblivious to eternity laying at his door step – the beggar Lazarus. How often God puts people in our lives for no reason but to give us opportunity to see eternity in their eyes. If we don’t want to be bothered by them, we lose the gift God has laid at our doorsteps.
Remember, St. John says in his epistle: If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4:20-21)
The life of every Christian is both defined by the Gospel, and is also a retelling of the Gospel. The people of the world often have no access to the Gospel other than how it is narrated through our lives. They aren’t going to pick up a bible to see what’s in it. They are going to look at us and are going to read us to know what our God is like.
The poor Lazarus looks to the rich man to see if God is real, good and kind. The rich man can live Torah, can care for his fellow human and show that poor man that despite his poverty and suffering, God is good and God is real.
The world looks to us to see what God is like, to encounter the Gospel. That Word of God has to be written on our hearts, and our lives are the voice enhanced ereaders, narrating to others what is written on our hearts. God has called us to be a light to the world, to show the Gospel to others by how we live.