|08 - Lazarus and the Rich Man, Oct 24, 2010|
Just before Jesus tells this Gospel of Lazarus and the Rich Man, He says to the Pharisees: “No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and money. It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for even one dot of the Law to become void.” Jesus then says this from the Law: “All men who divorce their wife and marry another commit adultery; and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” (v. 18) Jesus then goes on to tell the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man.
In this biblical setting, it seems clear that the parable of Lazarus and the rich man is meant to illustrate the theological fact that we were created in the Image and likeness of God. The law of our nature is to live and move and have our being in God. That law is inviolable. It cannot be changed. It cannot pass away. Therefore, if we give our love to money and to the things of the world that it buys and not to God, we suffer, we are committing adultery, because we are choosing to live against God and against the principle of our nature.
Now, God is love. Created in the image and likeness of God, the law of our nature is the law of love. Love, by its very nature is free; it cannot be forced on us; otherwise, it would not be love. And so, according to the law of our nature, we are free to choose whether we will love God or money and all the things we can buy with our money.
The reason it is “sinful” to love money and the things it can buy is because it goes against the law of our nature. The law of our nature is to love God in whom we were made. Only when we love God are we truly healthy, whole and alive. When we give our love to money and to the lusts of the flesh that money can buy, we give our love to that which has no life, to what passes away. We are then giving our love to death. This is why we are sick in soul and body. In our love for money, we have become disconnected from ourselves, disjointed, fragmented. We are spiritually schizophrenic because we are living contrary to the law of our nature. We are meant to love God who created us, who is our true “wife”, in the terms of the Gospel this morning. But, when we give our love to money and to the lusts of the flesh, we are choosing another lover. We marry ourselves to the world. Our “wife” becomes our own body and its pleasures. Thus, we are adulterers. We have sinned against God and against ourselves, for in violating the law of our nature, we have been unfaithful to God.
The Rich Man in this morning’s parable represents anyone who loves money and the things of the world it can buy. Perhaps the Rich man in this morning’s Gospel represents especially us who call ourselves Christian. We say we love God with our lips; but what do we love in our secret heart? Outwardly, we attend the divine services. Outwardly, we say our prayers. We may even say them regularly, faithfully. But in our heart, who, what do we love?
I believe it’s relatively easy to test where our heart is. In our free time, in our empty moments, in the privacy of our closet when no one is looking, when we are all alone with ourselves, where do we go? What do we do? What do we give our mind to? Are we redeeming the time of our life on earth, seeking to cultivate in our heart love for God by prayer and fasting, meditating on the law of God, reading Holy Scripture, the lives of the saints, attending the divine services of the Church, ministering to the needy according to our means and our capacity; or are we giving ourselves over to the pleasures and comforts of the flesh? Are we giving the love of our mind over to fantasy, our eyes to impure images, to create in our heart a covetous desire for sensuality and for the comforts and pleasures of the world that money can buy? We can see for ourselves, from our own experience, that when we pamper and pleasure ourselves, we become so wholly absorbed in our own comfort, our own pleasure, the riches of the world that we become indifferent to if not altogether oblivious to the plight of Lazarus, our fellow human being in need.
The rich man dies, because every man dies. Money cannot buy you a pass from death. The rich man finds himself in the torment of hell because he broke the law of his nature. He was an adulterer. He loved the world when He was created to be “married” to God in the love of God.
Such is the law of our nature that we cannot not be someone’s servant. The way the law of our nature works, we become the servant of whomever we love. The rich man, even the Christian, who in his heart loves money and all the things that money can buy, is in fact giving his love to him who holds the power of death, the devil, who hides himself, lurking secretly in the pleasures and glitter of the world. And the devil, in return, enslaves the hapless soul to the desires of the flesh so that when he retreats into his secret heart, when he is all alone, when no one is looking, he seeks out willy-nilly the darkness and the things of the darkness. According to St Paul, he is a child of wrath by nature. That is to say, he has become darkened, blind, disoriented. He is schizophrenic, disjointed, fragmented. He can even go mad. He may become apathetic, depressed, and finally despairing because he is choosing to live contrary to the law of his nature, choosing to give his love not to God to become a child of God, but to the world, and so he becomes a child of wrath.
According to this parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, the chief distinguishing mark of the lover of money is indifference to his neighbor in need. Engrossed in the endless chase to get ahead, he is in total disregard to the suffering and the needs of others. The conclusion of this parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man is particularly troubling: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, then they will not listen even to someone who rises from the dead.”
That one who rises from the dead, of course, is Christ. He is the one whom Moses and the prophets are speaking about. The word of Moses and the prophets, then, is the word of divine love. The Law of the OT is the Law of love, love for God that is from the heart, not just from the lips. He who listens to Moses and the prophets, and who does what the Law demands – which is to love God with all one’s heart and one’s neighbor as oneself – is already, even before he hears the Gospel, taking up his cross to follow after Christ. In other words, he is already taking up the work of repentance, of turning inward and descending into his heart in order to turn the love of his heart heavenward. He is already praying. He is already turning the eyes of his mind again and again towards the Tree of Life, the Wisdom of God, the Cross of Christ. He is already fasting. He is already working to renounce the tendency of the old man in him to love money and the things of the world his money can buy. He is already giving alms. He is already practicing love for his neighbor by serving, according to his strength and his capacity, the needs of his neighbor. He who listens to Moses and the prophets, then, is already listening to Christ even before he sees and hears Christ; because Christ is the Word of God which the words of Moses and the prophets carry. And so, he who listens to Moses and the prophets, he who is already working to love God and neighbor from his heart in the spirit of repentance, he is the one who will know Christ immediately in his heart as the Heavenly Bridegroom when Christ comes at Midnight to the bridal chamber of the heart to lead those who love him into the joy of His heavenly Kingdom. For, in his heart the one who has heard the word of Moses and kept it will already have been faithful to Christ of whom Moses and the prophets spoke. When the Word of God calls to him from the cross, he will rejoice; for on the cross of Christ, all the work of his ascetic labors attain their goal: the old man and the old man’s love for the world that made him a child of wrath is put to death, and the heart is made new as a child of God in the New Man who rises from the dead in a new and right spirit, the Holy Spirit of God.
It is in this vision of the Gospel that the Church through her prophets, her preachers and teachers, cries out to all of us: “In the fear of God, with faith and love draw near.” Turn away from the love of money and from the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life; for these are not of the Father but they are of the world, and the world passes away, and the lust of it, but he who does the will of God abides forever. He abides forever because he who does the will of God lives in God, according to the law of our nature. Draw near, then, to Christ’s Holy Church in the faith and love of God. Take up your cross and follow Christ. Walk in the Law of His commandments. Serve God as your only master. Take up your cross to take up the work of learning to love Him with all your heart and your neighbor, even your enemy, the suffering and the needy as yourself; and so you may live and go in and take possession of the land, the Kingdom of Heaven, that the Lord, the God of our fathers, has given to you in the death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.