08 - The Rich Man and Lazarus, Oct 25, 2009

Galatians 1:11-19

Luke 16:19-31

I’m struck this morning by the final words of this morning’s parable: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” This is a stern indictment of mankind. What does it mean?

In the biblical account of human beginnings, God warns Adam: “Do not eat from the [serpent’s] tree, for on the day you eat of it you shall surely die.” This is an idiomatic construction that can be translated more literally: “In death, you will die.” The more literal translation suggests a death that happens immediately in the core of the human being, while the external part of human being dies more slowly, like a flower that dies immediately as soon as it is plucked from the ground, but continues to bloom for a time until it starts to droop and turn brown and lose its shape until finally it disintegrates back into the dust of the ground.

Surely God wasn’t whistling Dixie when He said, “On the day you eat of that tree you will surely die.” That means that we should understand that mankind died on that day when Adam and Eve ate from the serpent’s tree. How so?

The serpent’s tree represents a life centered on following after one’s own will and the wisdom of human opinion. When they turned away from the fruit of the Tree of Life, Adam and Eve tore their heart out of the Holy Spirit that had made man a living soul. Like foolish gardeners they grafted their heart onto the serpent’s tree. It says that their eyes were opened; but I submit that they did not see Christ, the fruit of the Tree of Life. Their eyes were opened to see the “wisdom of the serpent” in the dark boughs of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Since then, mankind has seen the spirits of darkness parading as angels of light before them and fallen to the seduction of worshipping them as gods and goddesses. Blind to Christ, we have called the darkness light; we have extolled the wisdom of our own opinions as the Wisdom of God. Dead to God in our spirit, we sit in the shadow of death, and in the wisdom of the serpent, we think we’re alive so long as we’re moving above ground.

St Paul would have us understand that God was serious when He said to Adam: “On the day you eat of the serpent’s tree you will surely die.” St Paul writes in Ephesians: “You were dead in your trespasses and sins. You once walked in them according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and we were by nature children of wrath, just like everyone else.”[1] 

According to this biblical vision, the life we live in this world is not life; it is death. We must understand this, lest we grow casual and glib about the life of God proclaimed to us in the Gospel and that we have received in the mysteries of the Church; lest we accommodate ourselves to the so-called life of the world, to its values, to its ways of thinking, believing we’re alive when in fact, we’re like the flower torn out of the soil. We must guard against the old man that is still active in us, lest we come to Church and partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life and receive the Heavenly Spirit, the very Life of God, but then we go back into the world to live not the spiritual life of the Tree of Life but the mortal life of the serpent’s tree and the seed of life, the Heavenly Spirit that we received in the mysteries of the Church, lies in the ground of our heart ignored and untended, taking no root in us and bearing no fruit.

We are not alive except in God. True life is spiritual, not bodily. The body lives through the soul and the soul lives through the Spirit of God. When we go into the closet of our heart and choose to dwell not in the Spirit of Christ but in the fantasies, the vain imaginings and the wisdom of our own opinions, we are climbing down from the branches of the Tree of Life that we just ate from in the mysteries of the Church and we are climbing right back into the serpent’s tree where the light we see is not light but darkness; the life we live is not spiritual but fleshly; and so it is not a living life. It is a mortal life, a dead life, like the blooming flower plucked out of the ground.

Now, the life of the Spirit is the life of the Holy Trinity; and the life of the Holy Trinity is a communion in which each Person gives Himself to the Other and receives the Other into Himself. To live in the life of the Holy Trinity is to exist in this communion of the Holy Trinity. It is to be taken up into the love of God, to exist in fellowship with one another, partaking of the divine nature to be made alive in the Spirit of God in the core of our being. Coming to life in God, we exist in the love of God and we naturally come out of ourselves like the Persons of the Holy Trinity to give ourselves to the other in Christ, in the Spirit of God, even as we receive the other into ourselves who is giving him or herself to us in the Spirit, in the life, the love and the light of God.

“If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead,” Abraham says to the rich man. Why will they not be persuaded? Because the holy resurrection of Christ is the life of God that the Law of Moses is the shape of, and which the prophets spoke of. If we who are dead in our trespasses love the darkness more than the light, if we follow after our own will and not God’s will, if we love the wisdom our own opinion, we will not love the Law of God which is the shape of divine life, and we will not listen to one who rises from the dead, because He speaks to us of the Wisdom in whom is the light and life of God that we have no interest in.

The Law of Moses delineates the shape of divine life. It delineates the shape of Christ; and the shape of Christ is mercy, justice and humility, of coming out of oneself in love for God to give oneself to one’s neighbor. It is life that shines in the divine light of caring for the orphan, the widow, the stranger, giving food to the hungry, justice for the oppressed.

You see now that the rich man in this morning’s Gospel exemplifies the dead life of this world. He is self-absorbed, doesn’t want to be bothered by Lazarus, his neighbor, who is in need. God revealed to him the shape of divine life in the Law of Moses. He sought to prepare him to receive this divine life when He would come into the world and become flesh and dwell among us, to make us who were dead in our trespasses alive, to enlighten us who were in darkness, and to give Himself to us as our food and drink, so that we would not only walk in the light but become children of light – men and women living in the image and likeness of God as we were meant to.

In His holy Church, His body, in the preaching, the teaching and the sacraments of His holy Church, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ comes to us, who are rich in the world but poor in God and He proclaims to us how we can become poor in the world that we may become rich in God; i.e. poor in regard to death but rich in regard to life. He calls us to come to His holy Church – the ekklesia, the communion of those who have been called out of darkness – and to unite ourselves to Christ the Son of God in a death like His that we might be raised up in a resurrection like His. We unite ourselves to a death like His and so realize our baptism when we practice Christ’s commandments to love our neighbor, to do good to our enemies, to pray for those who hate us, to attend to the needs of the poor and the needy. More than that, however: we are walking in the light as He is in the light. We are making ourselves ready to receive the good seed of the Word of God as our food and drink that we might become children of light alive in the love of God.

We begin to see the great mercy of God even in His command to Adam not to eat from the serpent’s tree. He said, on the day you eat thereof you will die in death. You will die, but you will not yet be dissolved back into the nothing from which you came. You will still be awake, still have a bloom, like the flower torn from the ground, so that if you will turn to me in repentance, I can graft you onto the True Vine which is Christ, my Son, and make you live again; for I do not desire the death of the sinner but that he turn from his wickedness and live. That is why I send to you my only-begotten Son, that you may see my divine Light shining in the darkness; that you may come to the Light in repentance and unite yourself to Him in the mysteries of the Church and your spirit be made alive again in the Holy Spirit of God, so that you will not perish but receive eternal life.

Let us the faithful understand the teaching of our Faith that we may act on it for our life. We were dead in our trespasses, but in the mysteries of Christ’s Holy Church, we have seen the true Light, we have received the Heavenly Spirit. The seed of divine life has been sown in our mortal bodies. Let us show love to one another by each one of us taking up the cross of repentance to descend into the closet of our heart there to pray to the Living God that He would come and abide in us and cleanse us from every impurity and save our souls. With our mind in our heart in unceasing prayer, let us walk in the commandments of Christ and nurture the seed of life that has been sown in our bodies in the mysteries of the Church. Let us cultivate a broken and contrite heart, a spirit of humility and reverence for one another and for our fellow man. Let us practice towards each other the love that Christ has shown to us. Let us come out of ourselves in love for God and make ourselves conscious of the needs of others in the communion of Christ’s Holy Church so that in God we might be made children of God, children of light and life. Amen.

[1] Eph 2:1-3