|08 - Lazarus and Rich Man, Oct 23, 2016 (with audio)|
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II Corinthians 9:6-11
My contemplation of this morning’s Gospel parable begins with what Abraham says to the rich man languishing in hell, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.” See how this drama of the rich man and Lazarus sets the Law of Moses and the word of the prophets together with the faith of Abraham, and how it centers belief in them on belief in resurrection.
I hear the parable teaching us in this that what one believes about the afterlife – i.e., whether or not there is a resurrection – is wholly determined by how one conducts oneself in this life and conversely, that belief in a resurrection will affect how I conduct myself in this life.
Resurrection, of course, is the heart of Christian Faith, which means that the Cross and the death and resurrection of God in the flesh are at the heart of the Christian Faith. Now, many false prophets have gone out into the world, says St John the Theologian. Therefore, test the spirits, he says (I Jn 4:1). Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God (I Jn 4:2). Moreover, the test that proves we are children of God, he says, and that our confession of Jesus Christ is of the Spirit of God, is that we love one another (I Jn 4:7). Meditating on this, St Silouan the Athonite taught that the test of true Christian Faith is that it so transforms us that we come to love even our enemy from our heart.
I believe this morning’s parable is along these same lines. It sets before us the proof of the Resurrection and the test by which we can discern whether or not we truly confess it; or, let’s say, whether or not we are truly fulfilling our baptismal oath to unite ourselves to Christ. It is that our confession enlarges our hearts so that more and more we identify with our “neighbor”, the one sitting at our gate, in their suffering to the point that we suffer with them and for them in our heart. Their suffering may well be beyond our competence to heal, but in the love for our neighbor engendered by our confession of faith in Jesus Christ, we intercede for them from our heart, that the LORD will have mercy on them. Listen to the prayers of the Church: interceding for the salvation of the world, offering the Holy Gifts “on behalf of all and for all”, praying the LORD to have mercy on us and on those who love us and hate us – this is what the Church does.
Consider also those who take up the ascetic life of the Christian Faith in its “monastic” form. They devote their whole life to self-denial for the sake of Christ, putting to death their self-love through fasting, prayers and vigils, fighting not to give in to the flesh and its love for indulgence, battling sloth and laziness, and subjecting their bodies and minds to the discipline of the cross. When, after many years of inner warfare, they come out of their closet and into the world, having attained a measure of holiness, what do we see them doing? We see them ministering in humility and love to all who come to them. Through their own suffering, taken up voluntarily, the suffering of the inner warfare of overcoming the passions in themselves, they receive wisdom and power from on high to comfort and console the suffering, even to work miracles of healing for the salvation of souls. Even in their death, the grace of the Holy Spirit is manifest in their relics. Those who venerate them, who are even anointed with the oil burning in the lampadas before their icons and their relics, are healed in soul and often in body. Even their personal articles, even books they wrote or that are written of them, can be full of healing power. We speak of the “consolation of the faith,” for healing the trauma of suffering unto the salvation of souls is what the Christian Faith is all about.
Centered on the Resurrection of Christ, the Christian Faith is centered on the Cross of Christ, the most profound, most complete, most perfect Theophany. On the Cross, we see the wonder of God loving the world to the point of becoming one with us in our death. The holy fathers say that His love compelled Him to come out of Himself, to empty Himself, and to become flesh in order to share with us in our flesh and blood. This He did in order to become dead (Rev 1:18), to become a corpse (Mk 15:45), buried in the tomb, to become perfectly one with us in our death. I.e., He identified with us completely in our suffering and death.
If this is the God of the Christian confession, how can one confess this God and not do as He did? Can you see that the life of the Resurrection is the life of Jesus Christ in the flesh that identifies with the suffering of the world; i.e., of each individual in the world? If I confess this Christian faith, then the Spirit of that confession works in me to put to death my self-love in order to raise up the image of God in me. The sign that I am confessing this Christian Faith and that the Spirit of God is working in me is that I find my heart becoming softer, and I find myself identifying more and more with the heart of each person sitting at my “gate”. I.e., I find myself judging others less and less by outward appearances, and more and more by the person, the heart hidden beneath the outward appearance. This judgment of the person beneath the outward appearance that the Wisdom of God begins to open to me, is not a judgment of condemnation or disdain; it is a judgment of discernment and compassion. Out of this compassion, I act with discernment. I do not act to enable behaviors, habits or attitudes that may be engendering the suffering; I act with discernment to heal the cause of the suffering. Even where this is beyond my competence, I am not indifferent to them – I think this may have been the sin of the rich man. I hurt for them and with them, and I act by interceding for that person in genuine love for Christ my God and Savior. We should not underestimate the power of that intercessory prayer.
St Paul speaks to us this morning of sowing our seeds bountifully or sparingly. These seeds are the word of God from last Sunday’s parable. They are the seeds of God’s love sown in the ground of our hearts, the love of God that manifests itself to the world in the concrete act of His death and Resurrection. I sow these seeds bountifully or sparingly depending on the measure to which I take up the cross of the Church’s ascetic disciplines, taking into account my strength and circumstances. I sow these seeds through fasting and prayer and the giving of alms. The holy fathers teach us that the giving of alms is not at heart the giving of money but the giving of kindness and compassion. It can be as simple as a kind word, a smile; or, it can be as involved as a career in the various services (social, medical, educational, etc.) that deal directly with the many kinds of suffering that afflict us and their worldly causes. But, is not the ultimate cause of our suffering spiritual? Is it not from hearts that have grown cold and dark in forgetfulness if not outright rejection of God and His love for the world, manifested on the Holy Cross by which He made Himself one with us in our suffering, that the suffering of the world proceeds?
To the degree, then, that I sow the love of God in my heart by denying myself, taking up the Cross of the Church’s ascetic disciplines to follow Christ into the tomb of my heart that He may transfigure it into a bridal chamber and transform me into a child of God, to that degree I sow the Cross of Christ that comforts and consoles and heals all things, even death and corruption, not only in myself but also in my surroundings and so in all those in my surroundings. And, to the degree that I sow these seeds of Christ’s Holy Cross in myself and in my surroundings, to that degree and more I am sowing the Resurrection of Christ – and that’s what I will harvest. And, it seems to me, that the Spirit of the Church is such that I will rejoice when I see, as part of the harvest of my sowing those seeds of divine love, the salvation even of my enemy.
May the LORD help us and save us! Most Holy Theotokos, save us! Glory to Jesus Christ! Amen.