|07 - Lazarus and the Rich Man, October 20, 2013|
2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1
This morning’s parable is addressed to the Pharisees. St Luke tells us that they were lovers of money. The Lord warns them that they cannot love both God and money. They deride Him, and Christ answers: “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts.” (Lk 16:14-15) The Law of God, He adds, will never pass away; and, he who puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery. He then gives this parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man.
On the face of it, these look like unrelated sayings of the Lord that St Luke has thrown together; but I believe they are in fact quite coherent. They explain the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, even as their meaning is illustrated by the parable.
Our parable this morning concludes: “Abraham said to the rich man, ‘If [your brothers] do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one should rise from the dead’”. This conclusion to the parable tells us that it has to do with the Resurrection. But, if that is so, then it has to do with the Cross, for that is how we are united to Christ in His Resurrection. And, it is the Cross, I think, that opens to us the continuity of all these apparently unrelated sayings that introduce this morning’s parable.
Let’s consider first the setting of the parable, not taking into account, yet, the behavior of the rich man: a poor man sitting at the gates of a rich man, who is clothed in purple and fine linen and who eats sumptuously every day. Do you see the Church? Purple is the color of royalty, and most significantly for our effort to unlock the meaning of this parable, it is the color of Great Lent. The image of fine linen, too, takes us to Great and Holy Friday. It was in fine linen that Joseph of Arimathaea (also a rich man!) wrapped the body of the crucified Savior and laid Him in the tomb. The parable says that the rich man ate sumptuously every day. One thinks of the ‘Our Father’, “Give us this day our daily bread.” I.e., it looks like Holy Eucharist.
On the face of it, then, disregarding for the moment the behavior of the rich man in this morning’s parable, the “certain rich man” would be Our Lord Jesus Christ. And, if that is so, the beggar, Lazarus, would be us, the faithful, standing in worship before the “Royal Gates” of the sanctuary. Lazarus the beggar is covered with sores. So miserable is he that the dogs come and lick his sores. This, and his desire to feed from the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table, reminds us of the Canaanite woman who said to the Lord when He called her a dog, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs feed from the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (Mat 15:27)
In its bare setting, this parable shows that, we are Lazarus when we stand in worship before the altar. We are the Canaanite woman. Because of our sins, we are like the “dogs” licking the wounds of grief and anger that sin has inflicted on our souls as we entreat Christ, the “certain rich man,” to let us eat just the crumbs from His table. Lazarus was clothed in rags. We are clothed in a corruptible body that is subject to sickness and to the dissolution of death. In our souls, we are fragmented and disordered, given to anger, lust, greed, and pride, as the Canaanite woman’s daughter was possessed by demons. So, sitting here now at the gates of the sanctuary, we are Lazarus, begging the rich man, Our Lord Jesus Christ, just for a crumb that might fall from His heavenly table, while the dogs, let’s say, of worry and anxiety lick our sores, the wounds that sin has inflicted on our souls.
We can be grateful that here in the Church, the similarity we show to this morning’s parable breaks down immediately. For, when we come into the Church, the Heavenly Mansion on earth, and entreat Christ Our Lord and Master, the “certain rich man,” to have mercy on us, even to let us eat just the crumbs that fall from His table, what does He do?
Beloved faithful, He empties Himself and becomes the Son of Man, born of the Most Blessed Panagia. He bears our griefs, and carries our sorrows. (Isa 53:4) He partakes of our flesh and blood, and destroys our death by His death. (Heb 2:15) He doesn’t give us crumbs from Heaven; He gives us His own body and blood as our “daily bread”, that we might become partakers of His own divine nature. (2 Pet 1:4). He clothes us, not just in a Heavenly garment but with Himself. We put on Christ and we are clothed in a Robe of Light in the glory that Christ has with His Father from the beginning.
Do you see how He changes us from beggars into the “certain rich man”? Our Lord Jesus Christ denied Himself for our sake. He emptied Himself and united Himself to us, He married Himself to us in our poverty, even in our death, that He might unite us to Himself in the glory and virtue of His own divine nature. In the death of Our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross, we behold the “mystery” that was hidden in God from before the ages. It is the love of God. The Cross is the Law of God that will not pass away because it is the perfect and complete “incarnation” of the mercy and love of God in which the world was created.
We live, then, only as we deny ourselves and lose our life for the love of Christ, take up our cross and follow Him. This morning’s parable shows us how this is made incarnate in us: in the practice of mercy and kindness, even to those who hate us, even to those our conceit would have us believe are beneath us.
This unites us to Christ in the spiritual marriage of Christ and His Church. We lose our life for the love of Christ, and He raises us who were spiritually dead in our sins and trespasses. He breathes His Holy Spirit on us and creates in us a clean heart. He puts a new and right spirit within us in the life of His Holy Resurrection. We become temples of God in the Garden of Eden; for, God dwells in us, He walks among us, as He did in the beginning with Adam and Eve. We become children of God, heirs of all the riches of Heaven.
The “certain rich man” in this morning’s parable found himself in Hades when he died not because he was rich, but because he was not living according to the Cross, the eternal Law of God. He was living in death already; for he was not denying himself; he was not practicing mercy. He married his soul to the love of money; and so, he was an “adulterer”, an “idolater”. Even when he was "living”, he was dead; for, his god was his money. He was not a temple of God but a pagan temple, devoted to the worship of idols.
Through our baptism, we were married to Christ. We were raised up from the baptismal font in the call to come out and to be separate; i.e., to be holy, to be faithful to Christ, not to touch what is unclean, not to “divorce” Christ and give marry ourselves to another. That means to deny ourselves, to come away from the love of money, to separate ourselves from the idols of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, and to unite ourselves to Christ according to the eternal Law of the mercy of God, made incarnate and shown forth in the mystery of the Cross. This is how we perfect holiness in the fear of God and become sons and daughters of the Most High, children of the “certain rich man” of heaven, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
This principle of the Cross, the principle of denying ourselves for the love of the other, is not an abstract idea. It is the very principle of life, the eternal Law of God. I believe what Abraham is saying when he tells the rich man languishing in Hades that his brothers won’t believe what Moses and the prophets say about the Resurrection even if someone rises from the dead is that one believes in the Resurrection, not as a religious or philosophical theory, but as the fundamental principle of life. One believes in the Resurrection, that is to say, by doing it, by living according to the “principle of the Cross,” by denying oneself for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, taking up one’s Cross and uniting oneself to Christ in the practice of mercy, of sharing what we have with those who do not have. For, then one experiences the mystery of the Resurrection not as an abstract idea but as the very principle of one’s life. We become “believers” in the Resurrection of Christ, because we are living in it. Amen.