|08 - LAZARUS AND THE RICH MAN Oct 23 2022|
2 Corinthians 11.31 – 12.9
Luke 16.19 – 31
In the world, there are Lazaruses who are impoverished because they sought riches in drugs and alcohol, for example, or in some kind of illicit enterprise. There are Lazaruses who are social misfits because their manner is crude and unrefined, or because they are socially awkward, or inept in any number of basic ways. And there are Lazaruses who are rich, but their riches are but the whitewash of a tomb that inside, beneath the whitewash, are naked bones and all uncleanness, food for the worms, and stench. (Mt 23.37)
It’s St Simeon the New Theologian who points out that Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden not because they sinned but because they would not repent. With the help of St Ephrem of Syria (fourth cent.) a close reading of Genesis reveals that the LORD did not stop driving Adam and Eve away from Eden when He expelled them from the Garden, and they took up their dwelling in the hills opposite Eden (Gen 3.23-25). As it says, even still at the time of the flood, ‘the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually’ (Gen 6.5). Even after the flood, the LORD found men ‘unworthy even to be neighbors of Paradise and so He drove them even farther away into lower valleys throughout the world’ [Hymn on Paradise I.10-11, p. 81] But even yet, the expulsion from Eden was not done. It continued to the Tower of Babel, when the LORD scattered man who wanted to make a name for himself – as though he was a god (Gn 3.23) –‘over the face of all the earth’ (Gn 11.8-9).
I believe we can see the expulsion from Eden and the LORD driving of man out of Eden and over the face of the earth as an image of death; man being scattered over the face of the earth is an image of man disintegrating back into the dust of death. But the scattering over the face of the earth also is an image of the inner man being scattered in his soul, his inner man becoming fragmented and broken from the crippling and devastating effects of sin and transgression, greed and lust and anger. The image of man’s expulsion from Eden to the far ends of the earth, then, portrays the full degradation and misery of man fallen from the Glory of God that was his when God made him in His own image and likeness.
That is to say that all men, rich and poor, the cultured and refined and the social misfits and outcasts, are all Lazaruses, man scattered over the face of the earth, because all Lazaruses, all men, rich and poor, are from the earth and they will all return to the earth. Therefore, which of the two Lazaruses in our Gospel this morning, the rich Lazarus or the poor Lazarus, is closer to the actual existential condition of the inner man in each of us? It’s St Paul himself who reveals to us the profound schizophrenia that affects all of us. He says, ‘I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. [Rom 7:15-23]
All the more striking it is, then, when we learn that the early Syrian Christian tradition, for example, saw Lazarus in this morning’s Gospel as the LORD Jesus Christ. The beggar, Lazarus, is an image of the Son of God who became poor for our sake and descended into the expulsion of Adam and Eve, into our being scattered over the face of the earth, our disintegration into the dust of death. The LORD clothed Himself in the rags of our misery and degradation, so that He could be present to every human being, past, present and future in whatever hell or misery we have been scattered to, so that He could draw all men to Himself and, by His Cross and burial, gather the dispersed to Himself into His Tomb, to heal us of our brokenness and our schizophrenia and restore us to our original beauty in the image and likeness of God.
Now, at Pentecost and in the Acts of the Apostles, do we not see the Church scattering over the face of the earth? The Church is the Body of Christ; and so we see in the Church the Body of Christ being scattered over the face of the earth. We see the holy apostles scattering the ‘Seed of Abraham,’ Jesus Christ, over the fields of the world as they carry the Tradition of the Church to the far corners of the world. That is, they carry the Seed of Abraham, they carry the Body and Blood of Christ, they carry the Church’s Holy Eucharist – this is the ‘Tradition’ of the Church – to the far corners of the earth, baptizing the nations in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and raising them in Holy Baptism from death to life, and bringing them back to Eden.
For, this is the business of the Church: gathering those who are scattered, raising the dead to life, saving the lost, integrating the scattered, healing the broken, reuniting the separated. And the Church accomplishes this ‘business’ in each of the faithful who take up their cross to follow Christ and to unite themselves to Him in the likeness of His death. That means uniting themselves to Him in the likeness of His extreme humility, descending beneath the whitewash of self-righteousness and hypocrisy, to acknowledge oneself as a Lazarus, in order to identify with all Lazaruses, rich and poor, to regard all men, even the poor Lazaruses, as better than oneself.
The LORD’s parable this morning ends with Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham, and with a warning regarding the resurrection. Abraham is the Father of those who believe in his Seed, the LORD Jesus Christ, through faith. To be in the bosom of Abraham is to be in the Resurrection of Christ. It is to be, therefore, in the Church, in the Body of Christ, Abraham’s Seed through whom all nations will be blessed.
It is, I think, in this power of faith, which is the power of Christ’s Resurrection, gained to the degree that we humble ourselves and seek the love of God, that we accomplish the ‘business’ of the Church, not just through the lofty theology of our teaching, not just through the beauty of our liturgical worship, but primarily through our becoming ‘incarnations,’ each one of us, of the humility of Christ. And in this humility, as we did last Friday in the Akathist for the Departed, we Lazaruses in the bosom of Abraham, entreat the LORD to have mercy on every man, woman and child, whether inside or outside the bosom of Abraham, the Church, regardless of their manner of life or how they died precisely because, beneath the whitewash of our riches and our cultured refinements, we are all naked bones, food for the worms, and stench, and if the LORD should count iniquity, who of us could stand. And so we entreat the LORD for ourselves and for all, because we know that with the LORD there is redemption, that He desires not the death of a sinner but that He turn from His wickedness and live. Amen! Glory to Jesus Christ!