2 Corinthians 9.6-11

Luke 16.19-31

This morning, our Mother the Church gives us another parable, another riddle, another dark and obscure saying, setting the beggar, Lazarus, before us as an image of the mystery of God that is Christ in you, our hope of glory—that is, our hope of becoming temples of God in whom God rests as He rested in His Tomb on the Sabbath, filled with the Glory of His Holy Spirit (Lk 23.54) in the Radiance of His Son, Jesus Christ (Heb 1.3).

Our epistle reading from St Paul this morning, which is all about seeds that are sown and harvested, gives us to understand this parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man as the sequel to last Sunday’s parable of the Sower. As the LORD Himself explained to His disciples, the Sower of last Sunday’s parable and the seeds falling to the ground like so many beams of uncreated light are the WORD of God incarnate. We are the ground that receives the seeds. They are sown in the desire of God, expressed in the holy prophets, that we would not perish but repent and turn our face to the Kingdom of Heaven within us, to Christ the Sun of Righteousness who is in us, and receive the Seed of God, the Glory of His Holy Spirit, into our hearts and become Gardens of God bringing forth fruit a hundredfold.

If our parable this morning is the sequel to last Sunday’s parable, then we may see Lazarus corresponding to the Sower and to the seed that is sown in the ground; and we can see the rich man corresponding to the ground that receives the seed. Lazarus, then, is an image of Christ, the rich man of our souls. This in fact is how the early Syriac Christian tradition, which had direct ties to the primitive Church in Jerusalem interpreted this parable.

What lesson do we learn, then, when we interpret this morning’s parable following the Christological interpretation of the early Church?

Both the Bible and early Syriac Christianity express the theological vision of the Church in the multi-dimensional images of poetry rather than the one-dimensional prose of philosophy. So much of the Orthodox Church’s hymnography is woven from the poetic threads drawn from Her Syriac Christian roots; but, then, the images of Syriac Christianity are themselves drawn from the Bible. And so, in the writings and hymns of the early Syriac Christian fathers—St Aphrahat, St Ephrem of Syria, St Isaac of Nineveh, for example; even St Romanos the Melodist had roots in the Syrian Christian Church— we are given to see the theological reality veiled beneath the biblical images of early Jewish Christianity.

One of those images is the Garment. Jesus Christ, the only-begotten God, ‘He Who Is’ in the Bosom of the Father (Jn 1.18, cf. Ex 3.14) and the very Radiance of the Father (Heb 1.3), Who clothes Himself with Light as with a Garment (the Vesperal Psalm 104.2), in these last days, took off His Robe of Glory and clothed Himself in the garment of our human nature which He received from His Most Holy Mother, the Most Blessed Virgin Theotokos. You see St Paul using this biblical image in the hymn of the early Church he quotes in Phil 2.5-11. ‘He who thought it not robbery to be equal with God, because He was in the Form of God [the nature or essence of God, in philosophical language], nevertheless emptied Himself and was found in the form, the ‘schema,’ [the ‘garment’] of our human nature.’

The LORD received the garment of our humanity from His Holy Mother at the moment He was conceived in Her Holy Womb as in the sanctuary of His Living Temple. But this garment was torn, old, suffused with the stench of death because [and now I’m drawing from St Maximos the Confessor and St Macarius and St Ephraim] our human nature became the garment of death and corruption from the moment our ancestors turned away from God and fed themselves on the beauty of the world, the tree of learning good and evil, rather than the Glory of God, Jesus Christ, the Tree of Life. When the LORD God became flesh in the Womb of His Holy Virgin Mother and clothed Himself in the garment of our flesh, He was already placing Himself in the Tomb of our death.

And this is how we see Lazarus in this morning’s parable: clothed in rags, his body covered with sores, an image of Jesus Christ, the incarnate God crucified. The dogs licking his sores is interpreted by the early Syriac Christian fathers as the Gentile nations who would receive Christ and who, with His Holy Mother and those Jews who received Christ, would worship Him and seek to share with Him in His sufferings in their love and affection for Him because He was crucified on the tree for us and our salvation. As we might see in a moment, the dogs, then, are images of the children of Abraham; children, that is, who are the ‘true Jews’, those who are Jews inwardly; children, that is, who live by the faith of Abraham.

The rich man, then, as the image of our own souls, we could say is the image of the unrepentant thief. Like the unrepentant thief looking at Christ but not seeing Him as the Son of God sharing with us in our death, so the rich man looks at Lazarus at his gates, at the gates of his heart, only to ignore him because his heart is closed. He is an image of the LORD’s concluding words to last Sunday’s parable: he does not have the eyes to see or the ears to hear. The eye of his heart is not looking toward the Kingdom of God that is within him. It is looking outward, into the world. Like Eve mesmerized by the tree of learning good and evil, he is captivated by the enticing beauty of worldly pleasures and riches. His erotic desire that naturally longs for God [St Maximos] has shriveled up to become greed [St Ephraim the Syrian] for more and more riches. He turns away from the invisible, eternal riches of God that alone would satisfy his soul to pursue the visible way of worldly riches. He goes out to conquer the visible world that is passing away so that he can accumulate more riches and more comforts, more purple! He lives in the night, so it does not dawn on him that when he looks at Lazarus, the image of Christ who became poor for our sake, he is looking into a mirror and seeing himself as he is in his inner, invisible man. In the idolatry of his lust for the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life [1 Jn 2.16], he is altogether dead to God. [Eph 2.1; St Macarius the Egyptian] There is no repentance in him, not even a desire to repent. How could there be if his soul has become a corpse? The rich man, then, is the ground of last Sunday’s parable that is hard and stony. He is the ground that is covered with weeds. He is ground that is impervious to the seeds of the Sower so that even if someone were to rise from the dead—say Lazarus as the God-Man Jesus Christ—they still would not believe Him for they would have eyes that see not, ears that hear not.

But in the flesh, death comes to all of us. It comes to the rich man, and to the poor man; it comes to the sinner, it comes to the saint; it came even to the LORD God Himself by His own will when He clothed Himself in the garment of our flesh; and it came to the Theotokos, His holy Mother. My mentor, Fr JMeyendorff, pointed out to his students at SVS that this parable is in fact about the resurrection, since it is on that note that the parable ends. And our death is the moment when we will harvest the seeds we have sown in this life, whether it will be the rich man’s harvest of condemnation or of Lazarus’, that is, Christ’s resurrection to eternal life.

Lazarus, it says, was found in his death in the bosom of Abraham. Abraham is the father of those who live by faith, that is, those who live not in the lusts of the world that is passing away but in love for the eternal God. Moreover, he is the great, great grandfather of Jesus Christ. (cf. Mt 1.1) To say that Lazarus was seen in the bosom of Abraham when he died—if Lazarus is in fact the image in this parable of Christ—is a ‘riddle’ within the riddle of this parable of the Incarnation of the ‘only-begotten God, He Who Is (Ex 3.14) in the bosom of the Father (Jn 1.18) and who, born of the Virgin Mary, is now found, in the flesh, in our flesh, in the bosom of Abraham.

To live by faith in the bosom of Abraham is to become a child of Abraham, a true Jew—as we said above. It is to become a dog licking the sores of Lazarus, a child of Abraham sharing in the suffering of Christ God incarnate. That means that it is to devote one’s life in this world to sowing seeds of repentance, denying oneself, taking up one’s cross, losing one’s life for the sake of Christ and His Gospel in order to become one with Christ sitting as Lazarus at the gates of our hearts, knocking, wanting to come in and sup with us to eat even the crumbs that would fall from our table. I think these crumbs would correspond to the mustard seed. They are the crumbs of our erotic desire which, if they are given to the LORD Jesus and not to the lusts of the world that is passing away, draw the LORD Jesus ever deeper into the ‘house’ of our heart, like the mustard seed sown in the ground, in the ‘tomb’ of our heart. And as the LORD is sown in our hearts, even as a mustard seed, He begins to increase in us, and we begin to grow in wisdom and in the grace of God. (cf. Lk 2.52) Our erotic desire begins to rise upward towards God and not downward into the dust of the ground, and we begin to produce fruit a hundredfold, fruit that is the harvest of the love of God sown in our hearts.

In this partaking of the divine nature that begins when we give even the crumbs of our erotic desire to the LORD, faith begins to grow in us. And the faith that is of the Gospel of Jesus Christ sees no distinction between the powerful or the rich and the powerless or the poor. The believer in Christ sees everyone as poor, as Lazarus, but he sees himself as the ‘first of all’ the poor. He sees Christ in everyone, not just in certain social classes, and he endeavors to minister to everyone in whatever ways are healing and that are according to the measure of his faith, his competence, and his circumstances—even if that measure and that competence are no larger than a mustard seed.

For even if the seed of faith we sow is small because our hearts are not yet enlarged, if that seed is repentance in Christ-like humility and love, that seed carries Christ and He will increase in like the snow-melt river in Ezekiel’s vision (Eze 47.1-12). Like the mustard seed, our faith will grow to become a huge tree that embraces everyone in the branches of divine compassion; for the tree we will have become from that mustard seed will in fact be the Tree of Life, which is Christ, the New Wine of Heaven bursting the old wineskin of our shriveled heart and clothing it with the New Wineskin of His own divine nature. Amen!