|08 - Rich Man and Lazarus, Oct 22, 2017|
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From His parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Our LORD draws a lesson on the WORD of the prophets and His Resurrection: “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one should rise from the dead” (v 31). Let’s turn this as a lamp onto the parable to see what teaching comes to light in it.
The WORD of the prophets is the WORD of St Paul’s Gospel. St Paul says: “The Gospel proclaimed by me is not according to man, but [I received it] through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:11).
The WORD is Jesus Christ (Jn 1:1). He spoke and the creation came to be (egeneto: Ps 32:9; Gn 1:3 and the rest); and, in these last days, He came to be flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14). More than that, emptying Himself, He came to be obedient to the Father even to death on the Cross (Phil 2:8). Egeneto, it came to be: in this lies the mystery of our salvation.
Coming to be follows immediately upon the command of the WORD of God (Ps 32:9), so that obedience is the principle of creation. But, obedience is the movement of love. The angel speaks to St John of the “Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8), and the Cross is the “origin” of creation (Matins, Sept 1). So, more precisely, since the Cross is the “finished” and “perfect” epiphany of the Son’s love for the Father, it is the Son’s love for the Father that is the principle of creation. The whole of creation, in the way it is put together and in the way it moves, is the embodiment of the WORD’s love for the Father.
We do not exist apart from coming to be. We began to exist by coming to be at a certain moment in our mother’s womb. Over the years I came to be an infant, then a toddler, then a young boy, then a teenager, then a young man and now I have come to be an old man. And now, I am coming to be older. Finally, I will come to be a corpse.
This WORD in whom the world came to be and who Himself in these last days came to be flesh, is the WORD of the LORD who, as it says often in the LXX, does not come to such and such a prophet, as most translations have it; He came to be or happened (egeneto) to the prophets. But, how does He happen or come to be in the prophets?
He says to Mary and Martha: “I am the Life and the Resurrection” (Jn 11:25). In Him is the light of men (Jn 1:4). Therefore, the Psalmist says: “Thy WORD gives me life” (Ps 118:50 LXX); and, “Thy WORD is a lamp unto my feet” (Ps 118:105 LXX). The WORD of the LORD is not an idea to parse, analyze or debate. It is not even an announcement of some Mighty Act of God that happens whenever or wherever as though, to believe it, we must take the preachers’ word for it. The WORD of God is the Son of God Himself who made the world come to be, clearly for a purpose: that He Himself might come to be flesh even to the point of death on the Cross and so shine the Light of His Life in the darkness (Jn 1:5) that those sitting in the darkness (Isa 9:1-2 & Mt 4:16) who believe in Him might be saved (Jn 3:16). I.e., the WORD of Moses and the prophets, the WORD of the Gospel, the principle of creation and of our being, is the mystery of the LORD’s Incarnation and Holy Pascha. The Son of God came to be Son of Man that we might come to be children of God (Jn 1:12) The principle of creation is the WORD of God hidden from the ages now revealed to His saints (Col 1:26); i.e., to those who hear Him. It is the mystery of “Christ in you!” – i.e., the Life and the Resurrection of God coming to be in the coming to be of your conception and birth, your dying and death so that even though you die – or even, precisely as you die in Christ (II Cor 4:10), Christ in you – you live (Jn 11:26).
To hear Moses and the prophets, then, is to receive the mystery of His coming to be into my coming to be so that His Incarnation and Holy Pascha begin to work in me, putting my death to death, creating in me a clean heart and putting a new and right spirit within me so that my coming to be, taken up into His coming to be obedient to death on the Cross, begins now to pass over into the eternal life of His Holy Resurrection.
How does this illumine our parable this morning?
It says that this man was rich. He was clothed in purple. He feasted sumptuously every day. It speaks of his table and of the crumbs falling from it. Now, the Theotokos is the “precious robe of purple” (Theotokion, Wed Vespers, Oct 18), for she is the daughter of the King. She is the Table on which is the Bread of Life (Akathist). Do you see that the Robe of Purple with which the rich man was clothed is the Robe of Light that was put on him at his baptism, and that the Table on which he feasted sumptuously is the Altar of the Church’s Holy Eucharist? He is a baptized Christian! His riches, then, are the riches of God he received at his baptism.
But, he is a baptized Christian who put on the Robe of Light without taking off the earthly garment of his self-love, his idolatry, his love for the world. That means that he heard the WORD of Moses and the prophets as do too many of us: as the assertion of an event that happened back when way over there; and he believed it as do too many of us. He took the Church’s word for it and assumed that he was now saved. He could well have had an emotional experience when he “accepted” the LORD as his Savior. He may well have then gone to the temple regularly and performed the religious rites and rubrics properly. I think it very possible if not likely that he gave to charity, and, in all of this, was quite satisfied that the LORD was as pleased with him as he was with himself.
But, in none of this did he ever take off the garment of his idolatry that he wore beneath the Robe of Purple. He did not deny himself or take up his cross to unite his coming to be to the coming to be of Christ in the likeness of His death in order to put what was earthly in him – his vanity and narcissism, his sense of entitlement, his anger, his lust, his greed – to death. The Incarnation and Holy Pascha of Christ, the WORD of God, had not come to be the principle of his coming to be; it was just an idea to him that he accepted in his head, but he did not hear the WORD of God with the ear of his heart and he continued to live in the coming to be of this earthly life that passes away and not in the coming to be of the WORD that passes over from death to life.
To hear Moses and the prophets so that the WORD of the Gospel becomes the principle of our coming to be, we must put on Christ and unite ourselves to His coming to be obedient unto death by denying ourselves, taking off the earthly garment of our ego – woven from the threads of anger, fear, loneliness, despair – and putting the Robe of Purple – the love of the Theotokos for her Son and the Son for His Mother – directly on our heart, so that His death begins to work in us, putting our disobedience to death so that even our coming to be a corpse comes to be, in uniting ourselves to Christ, the beginning of our eternal life in His Holy Resurrection.
How does this illumine the meaning of Lazarus? It says that Lazarus lay at the rich man’s gate covered in sores. He desired to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table, and the dogs came and licked his sores. I see the sores as the wounds inflicted on our soul and body by our disobedience and idolatry, and the dogs as the demons licking the sores with the passions, making the sores worse. The crumbs I see as the wounds of Christ, the Bread from Heaven, by which we are healed. If we have truly feasted on the WORD of God, the Bread from heaven, our hearts will be broken and created anew, and we will come to be crumbs that fall from the Table; i.e., little christs, little pieces of heavenly bread that are sent out into the world from the Altar of the Church to take on the sores of those who lay at the Church’s gate, who desire to be fed the love of God and to heal them in the joy and gladness of a heart made new in the Compassion of Christ by the wounds of the Christ who is in us! Amen!