07 - Lazarus and the Rich Man, Oct 20, 2019

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2 Corinthians 9:6-11

Luke 16:19-31

Our parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man this morning is thoroughly in the Spirit of the prophets; and in the Spirit of the prophets should we interpret it. From the prophets, we see that both the Rich Man and Lazarus are images of Israel. We can take them as images of each one of us.

The Rich Man is an image of Israel or of each one of us as we present ourselves to the world, and perhaps even as we want to believe we really are. Lazarus is an image of Israel or of each one of us as we really are in our soul where we are hidden from the world, where God sees and where we could see if we would but come down from our high horse and stand before God deep down in our heart.

On this level, whenever I put on airs or think I’m something, or view others with disdain, I am clothing myself in the fine linens and purple robes of the Rich Man or the self-righteousness of the Pharisee. I forget that I came from the earth and I shall return to the earth. But, does this get through to me at all, even when I go forth and gaze into the tombs to see that beneath the fine linens and purple robes we are all but naked bones, food for the worms and stench?

Listen to Ezekiel. Through him, the LORD says to Israel: “I bathed you with water and anointed you with oil. I clothed you in fine linen and covered you with silk. You grew exceedingly beautiful, and came to regal estate through the splendor I bestowed upon you. But, you trusted in your beauty, and played the harlot. You took your fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and with them played the harlot.” (Eze 36:9-17ff.)

Can you see in this imagery the glory of man as male and female created beautiful and regal in the image of God? But, we have taken the beauty of the divine image to indulge ourselves, to make ourselves like gods apart from God. We act like little gods and we’re offended when others don’t treat us as such.

But, we are dust and to the dust we shall return. When we put on airs as though we are gods, when we play the harlot to use the imagery of the prophets and give our beauty not to the LORD God, our true Bridegroom, but to idols, we are delivered to the greed of the idols. They are our enemies, says Ezekiel (16:27), not lovers at all, for they strip us of our fine linens and purple robes, says Ezekiel. They take our fair jewels, they leave us naked and bare, they stone us and cut us to pieces with their swords (16:39-40).

And so, through His prophet, Isaiah, the LORD cries out to Israel indulging herself in the passions of her idols: “The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s crib; but Israel does not know. My people does not understand…They have forsaken the LORD…why will you still be smitten that you continue to rebel? …From the sole of the foot to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and bleeding wounds” (Isa 1:4-6).

Beneath our finery, then, we are not rich; we are Lazarus. If we follow the Church, we do not pray as rich men and women. We pray as Lazarus. We do not pray as the self-righteous Pharisee; we pray as the Publican. We pray as repentant harlots. For example, from last Tuesday Matins: “Like the Pharisee of old, I have foolishly exalted myself and have sustained a grievous fall” (Ode VII); or, again: “O Savior, despise me not who am led astray by the love of carnal pleasures. I have foolishly estranged myself from Thee and likened myself to the beasts” (Ode VIII).

Again: “Look upon my lowliness with Thy compassionate eye, O LORD, for my life will reach its end in a little while and there will be no salvation for me because of my works.” (Monday 1st Sessional Hymn: Tone 8).

“How long, O my soul, shalt thou live in negligence. How long shalt thou languish in despair? Rouse thyself from the sleep of despondency. Before the end bring the groaning of the publican and the lamentation of the harlot. Cease not to make confession with lamentation and weeping with fasting and vigils, crying out in prayer, I have sinned. Cleanse me, O Savior, and save me, in that Thou art compassionate” (3rd Sessional Hymn).

If we would take off the fine linens and purple robe of the Rich Man and identify with Lazarus, then we would stumble on the Gospel—the Good News—hiding in this parable. For, Lazarus has been taken by the Church from her earliest days as an image of Christ, God incarnate. Lazarus is the image of the same LORD Jesus Christ drawn by Isaiah: “He was despised and rejected by men…He was despised and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has born our griefs and carried our sorrows…He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities. Upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole, and by His stripes we are healed.” (Isa 53:3-5).

The death of Lazarus, then, is the death of the LORD Jesus Christ on the Cross. In His death, He is found in the bosom of Abraham; that is, He is found resting, as in the Sabbath Rest of His Tomb, in the hearts of those who have received Him in faith and in love; and they, in turn, are found, in their death with Him, in His Resurrection.

The lesson of the parable, then, can be summarized perhaps like this: we will find God not in the fine linens and purple robes of vanity or worldly airs or by indulging our carnal passions, but by humbling ourselves, by coming down from our high horse to sit in the dust and ashes that we are, by confessing our sins in contrition. The beauty and magnificence of the Orthodox Church is not of the world; it is an image of the heavenly riches of poverty and the divine majesty of humility. For, when we lay aside every excuse and acknowledge our brokenness, the wounds and sores that afflict us in body and soul, we draw near to God Himself who for us became flesh and partook of our death, taking upon Himself our chastisement, healing our wounds with His wounds, that we may be found with Him in the bosom of Abraham, cleansed, made whole, raised to life in the extreme humility of Christ.

This mystery of the Gospel cannot be proved, it cannot be known except within one’s deep heart, standing naked in the presence of the God who emptied Himself and was found exactly as we are, clothed not in fine linens and purple robes but in the wounds and sores of our broken souls.

If the purpose of this life is repentance (St Isaac of Nineveh), and if the objective of this life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit (St Seraphim of Sarov), this is how it’s attained: through lowliness and humility and contrition. In this, we become like God who became like us. In this, we become one with God in the eternal life of His Son, who became one with us in His voluntary death on the Cross. In this, we find ourselves clothed in the beauty of God’s Holy Resurrection, who clothed Himself in the wounds and sores of our death. Glory to Jesus Christ! Amen!