Great Lent, Poverty and Riches

As we enter the final week of Great Lent, hymns from the Vespers for the 5th Sunday evening of Lent draw our attention to the Gospel Lesson of the impoverished Lazarus and the anonymous rich man (Luke 16:19-31).  The hymns play on the various ways the words ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ can be used with differing meanings depending on what they are modifying.

CHRIST THE RICH, YOU HAVE ASSUMED POVERTY,

AND ENRICHED THE HUMAN RACE WITH ILLUMINATION AND IMMORTALITY:

ENRICH ME WITH VIRTUES,

FOR I AM IMPOVERISHED BY THE PLEASURES OF LIFE.

ESTABLISH ME WITH LAZARUS THE POOR;

DELIVER ME FROM THE PUNISHMENTS OF THE RICH

AND FROM THE HADES THAT IS PREPARED FOR ME.

Christ as God’s Son is rich (2 Corinthians 8:9),  yet in the incarnation impoverishes Himself (Philippians 2:5-11) by emptying Himself to become a servant to humanity.  We are according to the hymn to be rich in illumination, immortality and virtues.  The pleasures of this world (which we so energetically pursue) actually impoverish us, and so we should be seeking deliverance from them!  The pleasures of this world never truly satisfy; they don’t enirch us but actually only serve to inflame our appetites creating a craving for more.  Insatiable appetite leads us to consume all the more, to grasp for more, demand more and ever increases our greed and lust – ultimately such a lifestyle leads us away from love, away from God and to Hell itself.

WONDERFUL IS THE PURPOSE OF THE COMPASSIONATE SAVIOR TOWARDS US:

FOR HAVING KNOWLEDGE OF FUTURE THINGS AS PRESENT,

HE MADE KNOWN THE STORY OF THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS.

LET US CONTEMPLATE THE END OF BOTH.

LET US RUN FROM THE CRUELTY AND HATRED OF ONE OF THEM;

LET US EMULATE THE ENDURANCE AND LONG SUFFERING OF THE OTHER,

THAT DELIGHTING WITH HIM IN THE BOSOM OF ABRAHAM,

WE MAY CRY OUT: LORD, RIGHTEOUS JUDGE, GLORY TO YOU!

Note in the hymn Lazarus is not praised for his poverty, nor is the rich man condemned for his wealth.  Lazarus is upheld as a model of endurance and being long-suffering.  He is a patient man, and a man of hope who looks for mercy from others.  The rich man on the other hand is condemned for his cruelty and hatred, vices not actually mentioned in the Gospel lesson but are derived as the root cause of his apathy for and indifference toward the suffering of Lazarus.   Wealth and poverty are not in themselves vice and virtue.  The issue is our disposition of heart.  One can be financially successful and prosperous but be impoverished as a human being created in God’s image and likeness.  The American pursuit of success and prosperity does not translate into godly virtue automatically!  We have to choose to love others, to be compassionate, merciful, charitable, generous and kind.  Wealth does not automatically yield virtue, nor does poverty mean an absence of virtue.

Lazarus and the Rich Man

Luke 16:19-31 –

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

St. John Chrysostom wrote:

“Just as, when God expelled Adam from paradise, he settled him opposite the garden in order that the continual sight might renew his suffering and give him a clearer awareness of his fall from the good, so also He settled the rich man opposite Lazarus in order that he might see the good of which he had deprived himself. ‘I sent,’ he says, ‘the poor man Lazarus to your gate to teach you virtue and to receive your love; you ignored this benefit and declined to use his assistance toward your salvation. Hereafter you shall use him to bring yourself a greater punishment and retribution.’ From the poor man we learn that all who suffer curses and injustice among us will stand before us in that other life.

Indeed Lazarus suffered no injustice from the rich man; for the rich man did not take Lazarus’ money, but failed to share his own. If he is accused by the man he failed to pity because he did not share his own wealth, what pardon will the man receive who has stolen others’ goods, when he is surrounded by those whom he has wronged? In that world there is no need of witnesses, accusers, evidence, or proof; the deeds themselves just as we have done them appear before our eyes. ‘See the man,’ He says, ‘and his works: indeed this also is theft, not to share one’s possessions.’ “ (Daily Readings from the Writings of St. John Chrysostom, pg.43)

Lazarus, the Rich Man, & Clinging to Life on Earth

Luke 16:19-31     Lazarus and the Richman 

Then the Lord told this parable:  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.’ 

St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote:

“We surely ought not to think that what is referred  to as “hell” is a place, but a state of life, invisible and incorporeal, to which Scripture teaches us the soul leads.

And from the story of about the rich man and the begger, we learn another teaching which will be very pertinent to our investigation.  It presented the rich man as passionate and flesh-loving and, when he saw the inevitability of his misfortune, he was concerned with what he could have beyond the earth in keeping with his class.  When Abraham told him that no provision  was made for those living their life in the flesh and that this was amply set forth for them in the law and the prophets, the rich man still continued to plead that this unexpected proclamation be reported to the rich by one brought back to life from the dead.”

 I said, “What teaching is there in this?”

St Macrina replied, “While the soul of Lazarus was concentrating on its present existence and not distracted by any of the things he had left behind, the rich man, even after death, clung to the carnal aspect of life which he did not put aside although he was no longer living.  He was still thinking of flesh and blood.  It is clear that he was not yet free from fleshly inclinations from which people of his kind are never separated.”   (The Fathers of The Church: A New Translation, St Gregory of Nyssa: Ascetical Works, p235)

Theosis of Man vs. The Apotheosis

As an American Christian, I am influenced by two sets of values: the teachings of Christ and the claims of ‘the greatest nation on earth.’  There is a contrast in notions of kingdom, greatness, wealth, goodness, peace, and power.  The parables of Christ offer an image, however metaphorical they may be, of a godly kingdom. America’s mythology offers its own view of life on earth and in its own realized eschatology.  Consider the following and contemplate the differing values of greatness and heavenly rewards:

Luke 16:19-31                                                     The Apotheosis of

Lazarus and the Richman                             George Washington

Apotheosis of George Washington

There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumpt-uously 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.’ 

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 11:1-4 (c)

See:   God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 11:1-4 (b)

Genesis 11:1 Now the whole earth had one language and few words. 2 And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

Dubai Tower

“a tower with its top in the heavens”         The heavens so far in Genesis seem to mean mostly the sky which is envisioned as some form of solid ceiling which stretches above the earth.   In Genesis, heaven has not been described as the place where God dwells – the heavens are part of what God created in the beginning (Genesis 1:1) so they belong to the physical creation not properly as the “place” where God resides.   The heavens might suggest the dividing wall which separates the created cosmos from the dwelling place of God.   What exactly the builders thought they could reach is not clear.  God’s reaction seems to indicate that humanity’s place is on earth, not in the heavens and so the Lord is determined to prevent the humans from realizing their plan.  God has to this point not said that humans might attain heaven, even if they are righteous, or even after death.  God had made a very orderly universe with separate realms for the appropriate beings – the earth for humans and mammals, the sky for the birds, the sea for the fish, heaven for His angels and Himself.  The building of the tower seems to suggest to God that humans do not wish to respect His order, nor His realm.  The crossing from one realm to another implies the greatest of chaos and threatens the order of the universe.  One need only think of the parable of Laz’arus and the rich man in which Father Abraham explains to the rich man why those in heaven can’t help those in Hades: “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us”  (Luke 16:26).  There is an appropriate place for everything under heaven to paraphrase Ecclesiastes 3.

“Come… let us make a name for ourselves…”        The Church has tended to see the residents of Ba’bel as being sinfully arrogant, and in the hymns of Pentecost contrasts the confusion of tongues at
Ba’bel with the giving of tongues of fire at Pentecost which enabled the disciples to begin preaching to all nations.   “The arrogance of those building the tower caused the languages to be confused of old; but now the tongues are gloriously enlightened by the knowledge of God.  There God punished the infidels for their sin; but here Christ enlightens the fishermen with His Spirit!  There the confusion of tongues was done in vengeance; here they are joined in unison for the salvation of our souls!”  (From Matins on Monday of the Holy Spirit).  The Holy Spirit’s tongues of fire overcome the polyglot division which has divided humanity since the time of the tower at Ba’bel.  There is a time and a good reason for humans to be able to communicate in a common tongue – when it is time to proclaim the Gospel.

“…make a name for ourselves…”   Were these men thinking about making themselves immortal?   Humans have long aspired for immortality.   Did these men imagine by reaching heaven in a tower they could claim immortality for themselves – a lasting name?  If so they have failed to understand the very role sin has played in bringing death into human existence.  It is not reaching heaven that can give them immortality.  Eternal life is related to holiness and requires an entirely different pursuit on the part of humans than building towers and demonstrating human prowess. 

“… lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”     Strangely the very rationale the men of Shinar use for building the tower becomes the result of their efforts.  Whom did they feel threatened by?   Why was being scattered abroad such a serious threat?   Why did they believe they might be scattered?    The story doesn’t explain their fears, but it sets in motion the events that lead to them being separated not only geographically but also linguistically.

“lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”      One more indication that perhaps more than one hand wrote Genesis, in 10:32 the story says, “from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.”   Chapter 10 envisions humanity spreading naturally across the face of the earth as the population grows.  Chapter 11:4 portrays any spreading of the population in a threatening way – something humanity wants to avoid.

Next:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 11:5-9 (a)

Lazarus and the Rich Man (2009)

St. John Chrysostom
St. John Chrysostom

Commenting on Luke 16:19-31, the Gospel Lesson about Lazarus and the rich man, St. John Chrysostom wrote in praise of Lazarus, a man for whom Scriptures lists no virtues, and whose only known characteristics are poverty and disease.   Lazarus’ poverty and sufferings are contrasted with the unnamed rich man who lived a life of luxury.  The Gospel lesson is a challenge to any who see their own prosperity as being a guarantee of God favoring them.  The blessed man in the parable – the rich man –  stunningly is not in the end the one favored by God.   Wealth is no indication of virtue or of God’s favor.   Chrysostom sees in Lazarus though the more hidden virtues of  long-suffering patience coupled with his having a thankful spirit despite his poverty.  In other words Lazarus is not a complainer, nor bitter about his situation in life, but rather keeps faith in God like Job despite the cruelty of his life experience.

For this was the achievement of Lazarus, too: he did not give anyone money, either—how could he, being short of necessary nourishment? He did not visit prisons—how could he, being incapable of standing up? He did not visit the sick—how could he, exposed as he was to the tongues of the dogs? Yet  independently of these things he carried off the prize for virtue for bearing everything nobly, for uttering no harsh word despite seeing a cruel and inhumane man feted and feasted while he himself was subjected to such awful troubles. Hence the one whose condition was no better than a corpse, Joblying neglected in the gateway of the man who was then rich, was welcomed into the bosom of Abraham. Along with the patriarch who had achieved so much he was awarded the crown, was publically acclaimed and given a place in his company despite having given no alms, stretched out no hand to the wronged, welcomed no strangers, was capable of demonstrating nothing else of this kind, but only giving thanks for everything and carrying off the bright crown for endurance. Thanksgiving and sound values are a great achievement, as is patient endurance practiced amidst such awful difficulties; it is a greater work than anything. On those grounds Job also was crowned… After all, it is no slight merit to hold back a soul in distress from committing any sin; it is comparable with martyrdom, it is the acme of good things.  

Christ, Not Hell, Has the Final Say About Sinners

This blog is the 2nd in a two part post script to the series on hell; this blog is the conclusion to  Hell, It’s No Place to Go.    This post script followed the blog  Orthodox Hymns on Hell.     If you want to read the entire series, it all began with the blog “Hell, no?”   

XCenthronedWe may very much want certain people to be consigned to hell for all eternity for the harm and damage they have done to people in this world.   It is comforting to many to think that in the end God is going to clean up all of the evil messes humans have caused by holding all evil doers completely accountable for their deeds.    That idea of retributive justice gives us a sense that what we do In the world truly matters to God and it can give us some sense that suffering in this world will be shown to have meaning in the world to come where the wicked get their comeuppance and the meek inherit the earth.  It helps us balance the evil we see all around us knowing that though evil people may escape judgment in this world, they do in the world to come have to answer for what they did.   This helps many to find meaning in a fallen and even tortured world knowing that evil does not triumph in the end.

However in Christianity we also see God at work giving meaning to a fallen and tortured world by resurrecting Christ from the dead.   Evil does not triumph nor have the final say.  On the cross, Christ forgives his tormentors, and then is raised from the dead trampling down death, the means used by a wicked world to try to destroy Him.   Torture and execution do not bring an end to Christ’s mission or message – the Church is the witness to this fact.

Many non-believers point out that if the threat of hell is the only thing that deters believers from doing evil, that does not speak well of those who believe in God.   For they would say many who never believed in God or hell have done good things and have avoided doing evil to others.    Is it really the case that believers have so little love for God and His goodness that unless God threatens us with hell we would be purely evil?  If preachers did not threaten believers with hell would they never wish to follow the Gospel command of Jesus to love God and love neighbor?    At least in

Orthodox Exorcism in Kenya
Orthodox Exorcism in Kenya

Orthodoxy, Satan is not recognized as being more powerful than the Church.  In the baptismal exorcism, the Orthodox believers command Satan to leave the baptismal candidate and never meet or influence him/her again.  Satan is said not even to have power over swine (referring to the Gospel lesson in  Matthew 8:28-32 in which the demons have to ask Christ for permission to depart as they have no power to do so on their own in the presence of Christ).  The believers  even spit on Satan to show their fearless contempt of him.    If the baptismal prayers mean what they say, and if we believe what they proclaim, we have power over Satan, not he over us.   We are quite capable of commanding him to do our and God’s will, and he must obey the godly command as he is not so powerful as to resist God.

 Nowhere in the Scriptures is evil or hell said to have such power over us that we can’t resist them no matter how much they may terrify us.   As the Patriarch Abraham tells the rich man in the Parable of Lazarus – if they don’t believe Gods promises found in the Scriptures, the threat of hell is not going to have any impact over their behavior and choices (Luke 16:19-31).   [And, note, this Gospel Lesson is a Parable of Jesus used for didactic purposes, not virtual tour of hell.]

If in the end, everyone is predestined by God’s choice to heaven or hell, or if in the end everyone is simply forgiven, then what difference does our behavior make in this world since all is simply fore-ordained by God and He will judge or forgive by His predetermined will not according to what we have done?  In the Q’uran God creates hell from the beginning and promises to sentence sinners to hell for eternal physical torture – God will keep them alive just to torture them.  But this is an Islamic idea, not the Gospel’s.    The Christian Scriptures present hell as having been created for Satan (Matthew 25:41), not for humans and God is presented as finding no pleasure even in bringing about the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11), let alone condemning them to their eternal punishment.  God sends His TheotokosWarrenSon into the world to save the world, not to justify sending unbelievers to hell even though their unbelief condemns them.

The Christian idea of “hell” is surely better represented in that tradition which says hell is our personal choice to be excluded from the presence of God – hell is our own refusal to love God and/or to love neighbor.  God will be everywhere present when His Kingdom comes – even in hell.  Christ according to Tradition has already filled hell with Himself.     But for those who hate God, the very presence of God will be torture.   It will be God’s love, not His hatred which they will find so horrible.

The Scriptures do offer to us that God is merciful, faithful, wise and just.  The Scriptures do tell us that our behavior and choice – virtue or vice as well as repentance and forgiveness – matter in how we will be judged by God on Judgment Day.   But the Tradition suggests God will simply allow us to have our own way.  Either we will chose to be in God’s presence and realize this as heaven or we will be so repulsed by God’s love as to live in total and tormented isolation from all else in the universe.

 We Orthodox do believe with the New Testament that death is the final enemy of God to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26).  Hell – eternal damnation – is not the final victory over sin and sinners.  The final victory belongs to Jesus PaschaChrist the Conqueror triumphantly trampling down both death and Satan while shattering the gates of hell which had held death’s captives.    Hell itself is emptied by Christ – He liberates all of those bound in hell and thus empties hell of its prisoners and its power and thus takes away the sting of death and shows hell does not have the final word on anyone including sinners.  Christianity celebrates the victory of Christ over sin, death, Satan and hell; it doesn’t proclaim hell’s eternal power, rather it celebrates the final destruction of all that hell represents and proclaims that Christ is risen leaving not even one dead in hell.  There is no place in God’s universe where God does not reign supreme.   Take a look at Revelations 20:11-15, below.   The sea, death and Hades all give up the dead they are holding, and these dead are judged by God.   But then note – it is Death and Hades which are then thrown into the lake of fire to be destroyed – no mention is made of Death or Hades being kept as permanent states of existence.  [Here too I would note the language and imagery being used is very symbolic and figurative – Death and Hades themselves are anthropomorphized.   This is not intended to be a photographic image of the end, but it is a descriptive one.]  

Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books.  And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

Sermon Notes for 26 October 2008

Sermon Notes for 26 October 2008        

Epistle:      (2 Cor. 11:31-12:9)    

The God and Father of the Lord Jesus (blessed be he forever!) knows that I do not lie. In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands. It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven-…  Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

St. Paul, God’s chosen vessel and apostle is given a vision of the third heaven, paradise itself, and yet on earth has to flee for his life and escape arrest by escaping in a basket lowered from a window like some kind of contraband.  (actually I am wondering what they  would normally be lowering from a window in the wall of a city that would have escaped the notice of the authorities – smuggled goods or trash?   The city dump no doubt was outside the walls of the city, perhaps the public latrine as well.  Normal cargo would not doubt pass through city gates where it could be taxed).

St. Paul is chosen by Christ to carry the Gospel to the world, and yet the Lord will not free Paul from suffering.   Whatever the ecstatic experiences of Paul, whatever visions he had, or ascension he was given, he was never freed from the dangers and suffering of this world.  The Kingdom of God does not ensure for us the pursuit let alone the attaining of happiness in this world.  God deems the suffering of his chosen ones in this world to have value for them and the world or otherwise He would take his servants to paradise and keep them there.  As it is He seems satisfied with allowing us to work in this world even if we are weak or disabled.

  Gospel:     (Luke 16:19-31)

[19] “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. [20] And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, [21] who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. [22] The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. [23] In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. [24] He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ [25] But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.

Details I note in the Gospel lesson – this is a parable of Jesus, a story to teach, not a dogmatic or doctrinal statement about heaven or Hades.   And it is yet another parable that involves economics – Jesus frequently dealt with issues of wealth, prosperity and justice. 

Note both the rich man and Lazarus are alone in the story.  No other people surround them.  Lazarus is alone in his suffering.  The rich man feasts sumptuously, but alone – there is no mention of a banquet full of guests. 

The rich man dresses in purple – in the Roman Empire, normally only those born into the imperial family are allowed to wear the purple.   The rich man has not earned his wealth, he inherited it – he has never know poverty or want.   He stuffs his face at the table and food sloppily falls to the floor – he has so much to waste he is not worried about wasting food. 

Lazarus can only wish to eat from the food falling from the rich man’s table – but note he isn’t given it to eat.  He only desires it – his impoverishment is total; he is famished and allowed to see such sumptuous wastefulness and yet not able to reach the wasted food.  The dogs who lick his wounds no doubt had the mobility to get to the rich man’s food. 

Father Abraham basically tells the rich man – “Look in your lifetime you thought about nothing but yourself and feeding your face and always having not just enough but as much as you wanted.  You got what you always wanted.  You never gave thought to the poor or the afterlife, so now that you are tormented in Hades you have nothing to complain about.  Your only concern in life was you and your immediate wants.   Lazarus on the other hand had none of his needs met and he longed for relief from suffering, for liberation, for salvation, for mercy, and so now he is getting what he wanted all his life.  You have no complaint.” 

The message for us is clear – we can pursue all we want in this life, we can be fixated on this world and having enough or having too much.  But this life and this world belong to a bigger reality, and one day that bigger reality is going to open up to us, and then we will come to understand how selfish were our desires and how narrow minded our vision, and how little prepared we made ourselves for that greater reality – paradise, Hades, eternity and judgment. 

What are we living for?  What are our preoccupations and worries and concerns and priorities?  Are our ideas about life and God big enough?  Or have we so concentrated on ourselves and our wants and our lives that we have forgotten the bigger reality around us?  Have we reduced God the Creator of the Universe to some kind of personal Genie who is to provide for our personal needs? 

The turmoil in the stock market and the economy is certainly unsettling, but let us not lose sight of the bigger reality in which the world exists – God’s plan and God’s Kingdom.  There are things to fear in this world and to worry about, yet riches in themselves cannot commend us to God but they certainly can make us self absorbed.

If in this life time, all we worry about is having an abundance of things – of being prosperous, or of being satisfied – what complaint will we have in life beyond the grave if we are found to have made no provision for life in the world to come?

Lazarus and the Rich Man

Sermon notes      Luke 16:19-31                                            October 23, 1988

The Lord said, “What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” (Luke 16:15)

Today, we heard Jesus teach us the story of Lazarus and the rich man. We learn many lessons from this story – about wealth, about justice, about life after death, and about hell. Take some time this week to think about this story and how you look on wealth and poverty and your own spiritual life.

Certainly Jesus indicates there will be eternal punishment and eternal rest in the life after death. Notice that the rich man remains nameless, someone who has no name before God. Lazarus on the other hand is named, and eternally remembered as a person by God. The rich man goes to hell when he dies, not because of any particular sin. Jesus says only that he suffers eternally because he had good things in his life time. Apparently, the rich man lived only for a comfortable life on earth, and God blessed him with his heart’s desire. Unfortunately for the rich man, the blessings on this earth turned out to be for a very brief and temporary time. Whereas the torment in hell was forever. We might say that the rich man was extremely near-sighted in his vision of life. The rich man’s wealth abandoned him at the end of his life and remained on earth. That poor man had no provisions stored up for the life after death. St. John Chrysostom frequently commented that the wealth we give to the needy here on earth awaits us in the Kingdom of heaven.

I hope you all know where I am leading. Brothers and sisters, it is extremely near sighted on our part if we follow the path of the rich man, and live only for a good time here and now. Our culture and society teaches us to value the things of this world. Even American media preachers often proclaim a religion of prosperity in life, while ignoring the full teachings of Christ on this issue. Certainly, the scriptures are full of promises that the righteous will be blessed with abundance. But we are given our abundance in order to meet our own needs AND so that we can share with others. There is no blessing in scripture given to those who simply want to become personally wealthy or wealthier. God gives us riches for us to abound in good works (2 Cor 9:9).
Do you believe that those who are wealthy, healthy and pleasure seeking are blessed by God?

The truth is that too many of us who are wealthy, healthy and able to enjoy the pleasures of life are just like the nameless rich man. Too often you and I live and pray for the temporary wealth and pleasures of this world. And these pleasures and wealth will abandon us when we die.

Do you believe in life after death?

Then know that the pleasures and riches of this world are temporary. They will give us neither pleasure nor hope in the life we will find beyond the grave. This world is transitory, but after death we enter into the permanent life of eternity. Now is the time for us to prepare for our permanent life with God.

It is vain and foolish for us to pray and seek only abundance and benefits in this world. They will not make us holy, just, loving nor godly. They will not ensure God’s favor nor will they give us a good sentence when we stand before God’s judgement seat.

Look again at Christ’s parable: The rich man did not deny God. Perhaps he even gave thanks to God for his abundance – something many of us even fail to do. The rich man simply enjoyed the pleasures of the flesh. What he did not do was recognize his spiritual life and nourish the soul. Perhaps also, he failed to see Lazarus as his brother, and failed to practice justice and charity. He should have cared for his brother who was in need. Instead he cared only for his luxury. Please take note, I do not think Jesus was teaching social revolution here. He was not talking about redistributing the world’s wealth. He was however issuing a challenge to all of us to rethink our values. We are to remember that life here on earth is temporary. Wealth is given for us to share and provide for others. It does not imply God’s favor, nor will it in any way insure eternal life.

So, don’t live for wealth. Remember this life we now have is temporary. We are mortal and will die. Life ever lasting is ahead of us, beyond the grave. This is the life in Christ that we are to live for.

Think again about our story. Lazarus who attains eternal comfort and life, while on earth hoped only for the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Lazarus did not spend his time longing for wealth, nor to win a lottery, nor for a nice home and comfort. Lazarus hoped only for crumbs – just enough to get by today. If we live and hope for more then this, then perhaps we are more like the nameless rich man then we are like Lazarus. And no doubt most of us have plenty of crumbs we can spare to give to the needy.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus called us to a new life. Jesus called us to walk in the life of the Holy Trinity. He taught us to reform our thinking so that we might enter into the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of heaven begins within you. In your hearts and minds, God’s kingdom and values will reign. Whether you are wealthy or poor, affluent or just making it, you have opportunity to conform your life to God’s teachings. Reshape your thinking about wealth and justice. Think about the poor beggar Lazarus and the rich man, and follow Lazarus to eternal life.