|04 - Lazarus and the Rich Man, Oct 21, 2018|
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I think St Paul in his epistle this morning opens to us the meaning of this morning’s Gospel parable of Lazarus and the rich man. He says: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; and, the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
This is baptismal language; for, in our baptism, we died to the life of the world that the rich man in this morning’s parable is living for. It is the life of selfishness and greed, marked by indifference to others, to their sufferings and their needs in the scorn of those who are at ease, the contempt of the proud.
“You died,” says St Paul in Colossians (3:3). He is talking about our baptism. “Your life is hid with Christ in God.” “Therefore,” he says, “put to death what is earthly in you: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, covetousness or greed, which is idolatry, blasphemy, filthy language and anger (Col 3:5&8).
Putting to death what is earthly in us is how we fulfill our baptismal oath to “unite ourselves to Christ” in the likeness of His death. Putting to death all that is earthly in me, is how faith is embodied. Faith in Christ, then, the faith that justifies, cannot be lived without suffering; for the faith of Christ that justifies is the work of putting to death what is earthly in us through the labor of taking up our cross given us in the Church’s ascetic disciplines. By the cross of these ascetic disciplines of the Church, we put what is earthly in us – our egotism and our greed, the scorn of our ease, the contempt of our pride – to death and strive to unite ourselves to Christ in fulfillment of our baptismal oath. This faith embodied in self-denial, practiced in losing one’s life for the sake of Christ, this is the faith the rich man does not live.
Consider: this mystery of the death of God is the essence of the Church’s liturgical worship, is it not? We therefore cannot participate in the Church’s liturgical worship without participating in the likeness of Christ’s death on the Cross and His burial in the Tomb of His Sabbath Rest. In the sacramental life of the Church’s liturgical worship, it is no longer we who live; for Christ lives in us through our baptism, and in our receiving Holy Eucharist.
If we have been baptized into Christ’s death and have united ourselves to Him in the likeness of His death, then we have become one with that God who in His extreme humility “loved me and gave Himself for me.” Or, as St Paul says in another place, He emptied Himself and received [from the Holy Virgin] the form of a servant. He “came to be” in the likeness of men, and humbled Himself and was obedient even to the point of death on the Cross (Phil 2:7-8). “He shared in our flesh and blood that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death and release us from our bondage” (Heb 2:14-15). That is to say, though He was rich, yet for our sake He became poor, that by His poverty we might become rich (2 Cor 8:9). He loved us and gave Himself for us even when we were alienated from God by our idolatry (Eph 2:12-13).
That is to say, in His love for us, He became one with us. In the humility of His love, He identified with us. This is the One we united ourselves to in our baptism. This is the One we receive as our food and drink in Holy Eucharist.
To unite ourselves to Christ, then, in the likeness of His death, to strive to become like the Christ who now lives in us through the mystery of the Church’s sacraments is to identify, in the love of Christ, with the Lazaruses at our gates. This means more than just giving money to the poor and needy. It means to identify with those who, by the standards of the world, are beneath us. Or rather, it means to be so one with Christ that it is His humility and love that live in us, such that – as the holy fathers teach us – we view all men, regardless of their social standing, as better than us. St Diadochos of Photiki, for example, writes: “When one begins to experience the love of God in all its richness, then he begins also to love his neighbor in full consciousness of the Spirit. This is the love of which all the scriptures speak.” (On Spiritual Knowledge §15, Philo I, 256).
Indifference to one’s neighbor is the mark of unbelief. Indifference in an Orthodox Christian to one’s neighbor or to those lower than us by the standards of the world is the sure sign of spiritual delusion, that it is my ego, not Christ, living in me and that the Christ I think I worship is probably but the projection of my ego onto the screen of divinity as the god I worship in my heart.
Identifying with the Lazaruses at one’s gate – not patronizing them in a feigned love, but truly identifying with them in the sincerity, humility and love of Christ – this is the mark of faith, the sign that it is not we who live but Christ who lives in us.
Again, St Diadochos of Photiki says: “Inasmuch as one gives himself in consciousness of soul to the love of God (i.e., whoever unites himself to Christ), to that extent does he come to exist in the love of God. Then, from that point on, such a one strains with a certain erotic yearning for the illumination of spiritual knowledge, such that he feels his yearning consciously in his bones. He no longer knows himself; he is wholly transformed by the love of God. His heart now burns constantly with the fire of love and clings to God with an irresistible longing, since he has once and for all transcended self-love in his love for God.” (Ibid. §14)
I wonder if, in the spiritual illumination of the love of God, the eyes of the soul are opened to see that beneath the façade of our bravado and sophistication all of us are a Lazarus, all of us are hurting, afraid, lonely, bruised and wounded by guilt, naked, hungry, thirsty for meaning, for peace, for joy. And the person of “faith” identifies with the Lazarus at his gate in the love of God that lives in him, such that he does not scorn him or regard him with contemptuous pride, but gives to him the love of God out of the riches of Christ’s resurrection that lives in him.
Confessing that I am the rich man living the scorn of those who are at ease, the contempt of the proud, I pray to the LORD: “LORD, I believe, help my unbelief!” LORD, help me to find the way of repentance that I may learn to walk thy most excellent way of humility and love for mankind. Amen!