|07 - Lazarus & the Rich Man, Oct 26, 2014|
“I am poor and needy,” says the Psalmist. (Ps 40:17 & 70:5) The Church sees this as a prayer of the LORD Jesus Christ; and so it is a prophecy of the LORD’s saving Incarnation. Prophesying also of the LORD’s Incarnation, Isaiah saw Him as having no beauty that we should desire Him, despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, from whom we hid our faces. He was, wounded because of our iniquity, bruised and spitefully treated because of our transgressions. (Isa 53) In this biblical light, Lazarus is revealed as an image of the incarnate LORD Jesus Christ.
Translating the Greek literally, the parable says that Lazarus was “thrown” or “cast” in front of the rich man’s gate. The imagery recalls last Sunday’s parable of the Sower. Lazarus is the LORD Jesus Christ, the “Seed of Abraham”, thrown or cast onto the soil of the rich man’s soul just outside the gate of his heart.
This “Seed of Abraham,” which is Christ, as St Paul says (Gal 3:16), is also our human nature, as St Paul says again in Hebrews: “Truly, He did not take to Himself the nature of angels but the seed of Abraham.” (Heb 2:16) Lazarus, then, is the LORD Jesus Christ clothed in our human nature, who has cast Himself like the seed that has no beauty or comeliness that we should desire it onto the ground of the rich man’s soul at the gate of his heart.
This parable is a mirror. Look into it and we’ll see reflected back at us what we really are and what we think we are. Lazarus is the reflection of the LORD Jesus Christ who has clothed Himself in the tattered rags of our human nature that is covered with wounds and sores. The rich man, on the other hand, reflects back at us how we see ourselves. Clothed in the wisdom of our own opinions and pampered by the conceit of our self-esteem, we are wholly oblivious, even indifferent to our soul that is clothed in the stinking rags of death and corruption, and covered with the wounds and sores of the sins of our disobedience. Indifferent to our spiritual state, we are indifferent to the Christ who has clothed Himself not in the luxuriant robes of our worldly conceits but in the tattered rags of our nature that is sick unto death.
Lazarus, it says, was laid – or rather “thrown” or “cast” in front of the rich man’s gate. Having emptied Himself of His heavenly glory, the LORD Jesus Christ clothed Himself in our fallen nature and “threw” Himself as the Seed of Abraham onto the ground in front of the gate of our heart. He desired, the parable says, to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. There in our heart as seed sown in the ground, He desires to have communion with us. He wants to raise us up from death to life like the seed springing up to become the ear of corn. He wants to make us partakers of His own divine nature and to clothe us in the robes, the virtue, the power of His own uncreated Glory. (II Pt 1:3-4)
So, if Lazarus is an image of Christ who has clothed Himself in our human nature at the point of our heart, then it is in the ground where Lazarus is, not in the mansion of the rich man, that we would find our heart. The rich man, then, living inside His elegant worldly mansion is living outside his heart.
Lazarus lying on the ground at the rich man’s gate, then, is Christ lying in the tomb of the rich man’s heart. Lazarus’ tattered rags are the LORD’s burial clothes, and the sores and wounds on Lazarus’ body are an image of the Blessed Savior’s crucified body. The gate of the rich man is the stone covering his heart by which he has sealed himself out of his heart, cut off from the LORD lying in the tomb of his heart.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven,” says the Savior. (Mat 5:3) Our sin isn’t that we fail to give crumbs to the poor man. It’s that we make no effort to become poor in spirit ourselves; that is to say, we make no effort to deny ourselves and to lose our life for the sake of Christ and His Holy Gospel and to open the gate of our heart in order to unite ourselves with Lazarus; that is, with Christ who became “poor and needy” even to the point of being “cast” or “thrown” into the tomb of our heart for our sake.
We need to ask ourselves: how much time and energy do we give to prayer and fasting in order to do the work of purifying our heart from the idols of greed and covetousness compared to the time and energy we give to the pursuit of worldly pleasures and comforts? How hard do we work to purify our mind of impure images and worldly thoughts, how much do we desire to cultivate humility, meekness and poverty of spirit for the sake of Christ and His holy Gospel compared to how hard we work to master, let’s say, the intricacies of the many mindless, even soul-destroying pastimes and pursuits the world is constantly “throwing” at us at the gate of our heart?
Blessed are the poor in spirit. The poverty that is blessed is of the spirit: humility and love for God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind by which our hearts are enlarged to love our neighbor as ourselves.
This is the poverty that “throws” or “casts” us down from the “scorn of those who are at ease, the contempt of the proud” the narrow path of Christ that leads to the gate of our heart, so that we can open it and enter the tomb of our heart with Sts Peter and John, and see that the LORD … is not there! He is risen, and through the proclamation of His Holy Gospel, He calls us to seek Him and to find Him in Galilee! He calls us to leave our worldly mansions behind and to become “poor and needy”, cultivating a broken and contrite spirit that we may find Him in our deep heart that opens onto the Garden of Eden in the Kingdom of Heaven.
In this reading of this morning’s parable, the poverty reflected back at us in the image of Lazarus is not the poverty of those who are poor in worldly wealth but of those whose inner orientation is the Cross of the Savior. The poor in spirit may be rich or poor in a worldly way, but because they are poor in spirit, their heart is rich in the love of God. Out of that love, they manage and distribute their worldly riches as wise stewards to promote and support the earthly ministries of the Church that are for the salvation of the world and so they store up riches for themselves in heaven.
As wise stewards, we are called to be innocent as doves but wise as serpents. The dove is the Holy Spirit; the serpent is the evil one. We are called to practice the commandments of Christ in the Holy Spirit in whom we learn to discern the deceits of the evil one. For, helping those who are poor in a worldly way is a complex matter. What is wanted is not always what is needed. Apart from sober discernment in the Spirit of Christ’s Holy Church, one can fall victim to a romantic naiveté whose “charity” is the work of a soul rich in vanity, and which does more harm than good.
Our parable this morning shows us what we really are. We are poor and needy, clothed in the tattered rags of death and corruption, covered with wounds and sores inflicted on us by our own sins and transgressions. But, when we forsake the riches of our worldly conceits and make our way to stand at the gate of our heart as we really are, without excuse, offering to the Savior the prayer, “LORD, have mercy on me!” our eyes begin to open to see that Christ is in our midst, having emptied Himself, having become Himself “poor and needy” as we are, having clothed Himself in the tattered rags of our mortality, sharing the wounds and sores of our sin even to the point of sharing with us in our death that He might make us sharers of His eternal life. We begin to see that in the mystery of Christ, we are in our neighbor, our neighbor is in us, and we are all in Christ. In the love of Christ that is sown in our heart from this Gospel proclamation, we find ourselves wanting to deny the riches of our worldly conceit and to identify with our neighbor at the gate of our heart where we stand with him as we really are. We want to share with him and with the LORD not just our crumbs but even ourselves, and to share with them the greatest of all riches; the love of God that has been made to abide in us in the Blessed LORD Jesus Christ forever. Amen.