|07 - Lazarus and the Rich Man, Oct 21, 2012|
Luke 16:19-31The parable in this morning’s Gospel ends with Abraham saying to the rich man: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they would not be persuaded even if someone rose from the dead.” From this, we understand that this parable has to do with the resurrection; it is telling us something about the resurrection.
Now, the Church is the new community named after Christ; so, we say in the Kontakion for Wednesday; for, the Church is the crucified and risen body of Christ. In other words, the Church is new not the way something in the world is new. She is new in that she is the community that has died and lives not in the world, but in the resurrection of Christ. Everything worldly in her has been put to death. Nothing in the world becomes something of the Church until it has been put to death, baptized, and has been made “new” in the resurrection of Christ where death has been destroyed by Christ’s death. Everything that is of the Church is new because it is made alive in Christ’s Resurrection and exists and lives on the other side of the grave, where death has been put to death in the resurrection of Christ.
The world exists in separation and division, does it not? People are divided from people according to power and authority; and the power and authority one person has over another derives, for example, from his social standing or his wealth. Those in power have authority. Those in authority exercise power over those who are subject to them. That power is expressed in asserting the will of the one who is in power and authority over the one who is not. The one who is not in power is scorned or ignored as someone of no value – as Lazarus was scorned by the rich man in today’s parable. Or, the one who is inferior is treated as a slave; and, if he plays the game, he makes himself an “admirer” of the one who is superior to him in power and authority; and what is his admiration in its essence if it is not an expression of envy?
In the new community of the Church, there is still division: God is still God and man is still man; but the power and authority that derive from that division are of a radically different character. The power and authority of God is His power to bring creation from nothing into existence, and to give it life. This power and authority of God to give existence to what did not exist, and to raise to life what had fallen away into death is the expression, moreover, of His love. Out of this love, the Son of God who is almighty and all-powerful, who is from everlasting to everlasting, who is the First and the Last, the Creator of all things visible and invisible, empties Himself and becomes flesh. He takes on the likeness of man, His servant, and He is obedient to the Father to the point of death on the Cross, so that He might destroy the devil who had the power of death and deliver those of flesh and blood whom He made to be His brothers and sisters in the mystery of His Incarnation, that they might live no longer in the fear of death but in the joy of His fellowship. And, even though He is still God and man is still man, the one uncreated and the other created, that division does not separate them from each other. Instead, it becomes the very means by which they become one in a communion of love that is eternal and never dissolves. It never dissolves because God is always God, man is always man: there is always a lover and a beloved who become one in an eternal communion and fellowship of joy, without ever disappearing in a fusion in which they both dissolve into each other and thereby cease to exist as lover and beloved.
In the new community of the Church, the one who is superior, God, shows the power of His authority by giving life to the inferior; and He does this by coming out of Himself, emptying Himself, and giving Himself to the other in love. The Church is new, then, in that her life is this life of God, the character of her life is the character of God. The power and authority that she has is the power and authority of life that derives from the love of Christ who, out of His love, destroyed death by His death and gave life to those in the tombs.
In this morning’s parable, then, we see a community between Lazarus and the Rich Man that reflects the community of the world, where the rich man, because he is superior in wealth and social standing, is more powerful than Lazarus; and, because he is more powerful, he is of more value. Lazarus, because he has no wealth, has no value, and is not worthy even of a smile or a kind look. He is left to the dogs.
It is therefore significant to note that in the parable, it is the rich man who does not have a name, but Lazarus does. This is how it is in the Church, in the new community named after Christ. In the Church, everyone is given a name at their baptism, the sign that each one is of eternal value, because each one is known by God, and God calls each of us by his or her name to become one with Him in the joy of His fellowship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. For, in the Church there is no pride or conceit. There is no selfish tyranny. There is power and authority, but it is the power and authority not of a worldly tyranny that oppresses and stifles and suppresses, but of divine love by which God empties Himself to raise us to life, even a life that bubbles over with love and joy and thanksgiving in the goodness of Christ.
In the new community named after Christ, those who are last are first, those who are first are last. People are not separated into classes according to their social status or their wealth, for all those separating divisions produced from pride and conceit have been destroyed in the death and resurrection of Christ. All who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and have died with Him to the pride and conceit of worldly power and authority are raised up with Him in the likeness of His Resurrection; in the likeness, that is to say, of His love and humility that is powerful with life; and they are called by name to become fully, each one, a partaker of the same glory and virtue of the divine nature. No one is turned away, no one is scorned, no one is ignored. No one is measured by his or her social status or wealth, but by the eternal value inherent to them as a creature made in the image and likeness of God, created by God to be loved and to love God in the fellowship of love that is the essence of the new community named after Christ.
In the Church, and especially when she is in worship at a vigil or in the Divine Liturgy, it can happen that the curtain that separates us from the world on the other side is invisibly drawn. We may feel the world retreating from us as we are transported to a higher plane where God, the Theotokos and all the saints feel much closer to us. In such sacred moments, we may feel the love and humility, the tenderness, the compassion, the gentleness of this new community of the Church that is not of this world. In that love, all the divisions that separate us because of our worldly pride dissolve. We may feel that we are seeing in an unseeing way the other worldly depths of divine love and goodness, and we see each and every person as a person of eternal value, loved simply for who he or she is as a man or woman created in the image and likeness of God.
To be sure, we are still worldly, still much more familiar with the ways of the world that divide and distinguish and value according to one’s looks, one’s skills, one’s social status and one’s wealth. We are much less familiar with the ways of the Church that measure us according to our humility and our repentance.
This morning’s Gospel sets before us a warning, but behind it is the joy of Paradise that the Church ceaselessly calls us to. The warning is to begin confronting our worldliness by which we judge others according to their social status or wealth, their looks or skills, and to begin practicing this life of heaven that we have received even here and now while we are still in the world from the baptismal font and Chalice of the Church by treating every one not according to their worldly standing but according to the eternal value of their soul, as brothers and sisters created in the image and likeness of God. Amen.