|08 - Lazarus and the Rich Man, Oct 23, 2011|
II Corinthians 11:31-12:9
The warmth of the sun radiates outward from the heat that is within the sun. The compassion and mercy of God radiate outward from with in the love of the divine essence. So also, love for God and for one’s neighbor – even for one’s enemy – radiates outward from a heart that has been raised from the dead and now lives in the uncreated light of God’s own divine life. Good deeds, acts of charity and philanthropy are the rays of love made concrete, made incarnate, that radiate outward from the new heart, the right spirit that God creates in those who receive Him in fear, with faith and love.
This is to say that the first principle of the Christian Faith is not social outreach or service but the transformation, the enlargement of the heart in the glorious mystery of Christ’s Holy Resurrection.
We practice philanthropy as part of our Christian ascetic discipline. Its purpose is to contribute to the work of uniting ourselves to Christ and preparing our hearts to receive the gracious glory of His Holy Spirit when our hearts are softened, transformed, and enlarged; i.e., made large so that they contain more than just ourselves but they contain our neighbor as well, even our enemy, because they are enlarged to hold Christ God who comes with His Father and His Holy Spirit to abide in us as we commend ourselves and each other and all our life to Christ God in the fear of God with faith and love.
Let us not be deceived into believing that by deeds of charity we are pleasing God if we are doing so to draw attention to ourselves, or if at home we are uncharitable to our spouse and children or to our parents, if we are lazy and self-indulgent around the house, irritable, critical, whining and complaining or any other manifestation of a heart that is cold and hard and insensitive to the goodness of God’s mercy and compassion. On the other hand, let’s not fool ourselves into believing that our heart has been transformed if we are stingy and selfish and greedy in the acquisition of material wealth or vainglory, if we are self-centered, self-absorbed, vain and conceited or wallowing in self-pity – which is but another form of self-love or self-centeredness – and if we are indifferent or insensitive to the suffering of others.
In either of these cases of the “right” and the “left”, we put ourselves in the company of the rich man in this morning’s Gospel, and we are aligned with his rich but hapless brothers rebuked by Abraham: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not believe even if someone should rise from the dead.” They will not believe in the resurrection, while they might very easily believe in reincarnation, because they are idolaters. They worship money, luxury, the fine things of the world. And as the Psalmist says, those who make idols, or worship them, are like them. They have eyes but they see not. They have ears but they see not. They are spiritually dead, spiritual corpses. Even if they were to see someone risen from the dead – as indeed, they do see someone risen from the dead whenever they look at Christ’s Holy Church, which is His crucified and risen body, the fullness of Him who is all in all – they do not see Him, for they have eyes that see not, they have ears that hear not, they have hands that feel not, they have feet that are not standing and walking on the ground of the earth made by God, but their feet are off the ground of God’s creation, for they are raised up, lying on the bier, the bed, of their bodies which have been rendered by their sins and trespasses, their self-centered darkness, into the casket that holds their dead souls.
It’s not that the good things of the world are evil or that we are forbidden to enjoy the good things of this world, for God has made them all out of His goodness and out of His love for us in which He wants to lavish on us the gifts of His goodness. But we receive the good things of the world in gratitude to God. We are happy to be generous with them as the expression of our joyful gratitude to God, giving out of our bounty to those in need as we have received them in our need; and, if they are taken away from us we are still grateful to God for His goodness to us by which He has given us eternal life and the faith of His Holy Church which is infinitely more precious than corruptible silver and gold. We are still merciful and compassionate, kind and good to our neighbor, even to our enemy because our heart is warm and soft, full of joy and gladness in the love of God. We are not greedy for money, we are not stingy or indifferent to the plight of our neighbor.
So, the first principle of the Christian Faith is the transformation of the heart by uniting ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death and resurrection. We fast, we pray, we practice charity and philanthropy as part of our overall ascetic work of crucifying our old man with its fleshly desires and with the law of sin that is active in it to the cross of Christ, that we may die in a death like His and so be raised up in a resurrection like His, born of the Spirit from above, born as virginal sons and daughters of God from the New Eve who is the Theotokos, and of the New Adam, who is Christ. In this saving process of dying and rising with Christ, His own divine life becomes our life. We receive His mercy and it becomes the life of our life.
And so, we perform good deeds not to draw attention to ourselves, and not in some desperate hope that we will appease the wrath of an angry God, but out of our love for Christ that grows and deepens the more we unite ourselves to Him and the more our eyes and ears open to see and hear more and more of His glorious goodness, grace and compassion. In this love of Christ, we gladly serve others. Gladly, we even suffer for them, not to bring attention to ourselves, but to bear witness to the Christ who is Himself the very love of God, the Christ who has saved us, the Christ who is the only lover of mankind, whose infinite, divine love holds the world together, raises us from death to life and translates us from darkness and meaninglessness into the light and joy of God.
Then, our good deeds, the kind and joyful disposition do not go in the closet with our shoes and overcoat when we cross the threshold of our home. For, they are not outer shells like a whitewashed tomb that hides a rotting corpse within; they are the radiance of a heart that has been made alive, softened, warmed, enlarged, re-created in the love and goodness, the grace and truth of Christ, the only-begotten Son of God. In the new heart that God creates in us as we unite ourselves to Him and flee the corruption that is in the world in fleshly desires and give ourselves to the work of cultivating the seed of the risen body that was sown in our souls and bodies at our baptism, we come to a precise and correct knowledge [epignosis] of Christ’s Holy Resurrection because we are experiencing it in our own inner life, in the transformation and enlargement and recreation of our heart that God is working in us as we take up our bed and walk, as we take up our cross and follow Him in the ascetic and holy life of the Christian Faith. We then become, with the holy apostles, eyewitnesses of His majesty and power; we become ourselves the embodiment of His majesty and power by the good deeds we do from the clean heart, the new and right spirit that God is creating in us as we unite ourselves to Him in the taking up of our cross. And, our good deeds are not hollow. They are substantive. They come from the heart that is living in the life of God; and so they are the expression, the concrete embodiment of God’s love for the world and for each person and for each creature of the world. They are not of the dust but of the glory of God and so they are alive in the warmth that radiates from the inner heat of God who is love.
Through the prayers of our holy fathers, through the intercessions of His All-Holy and Ever-Virgin Mother, the Blessed Theotokos, may God grant our prayer that the Holy Resurrection of His Christ, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, become our life. Having raised us from death and corruption to walk in the joy of this life of God, may He grant us the power and the resolve to crucify the old man in us and to die with Him in the victory of His death that we may be raised with Him in the glory of His Resurrection and that our mouths may be opened to sing the praises of God in the proclamation of His Gospel by our words and our deeds. Amen.