|08 Lazarus and the Rich Man - October 21, 2007
From our Gospel readings this last week, we read Jesus’ words: “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” We also read this week from St Paul’s letter to the Philippians. “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”
At surface glance, one might think that in today’s Gospel parable, Jesus is saying that all those who are rich will go to hell, and only those who are in poverty and need can expect to go to heaven. But drawing from St Paul, we can say that the issue isn’t one’s financial position. The issue is what one’s heart loves. The Lord himself says to us in another place, where your heart is, there will your treasure be. So, I take the rich man in today’s Gospel parable to represent the person who has not denied himself in order to take up his cross and follow Christ, whose master is his belly, whose lord is “mammon” or the riches of this worldly life, whose heart does not follow after the things of the Spirit, but who lives to satisfy the desires and comforts of the flesh in an unthinking effort to save his life.
I take Lazarus to represent the way of the Cross and of the Lord who, as the prophet Isaiah foretold, “had no stately form or majesty that we should look upon him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and like one from whom men hide their face, he was despised, and we did not esteem him.” There are many in the Church nowadays who seem to think that the success of the Church is measured by how many people they attract. So, they make themselves attractive to the worldly man – in other words, to those who love the riches and the comforts of the world. It is no surprise when those churches that follow such a program become insipid and irrelevant and lose altogether their spiritual integrity and vitality. They have disdained the way of the Cross since its appearance has no stately form or majesty that they would be attracted to it. If the Cross is present at all, it is downplayed or severely diluted so as not to offend the worldly mind or scare it away by the rigorous demands of the Gospel. In their desire to be counted successful by worldly standards, they have replaced the Gospel of the Cross with a Gospel that panders to the indulgent mindset of the world. But such a church is no Church.
The way of the Gospel is the ascetic way of the Cross, which is the way of self-denial in order to gain the Spirit of God. This ascetic way of the Cross is the heart of the Church that is the body of Christ.
In his letters to Timothy, St Paul outlines the evangelical precept on how to handle prosperity in the ascetic way of Christ’s Cross: if one is blessed to live in the circumstance of prosperity, one gives what one does not need to those who are in need, for the disciple of Christ is taught that everything he is and has is given to him from God. We will be held accountable to God at the Day of Judgment for how we manage our resources, whether to pander to our self-indulgence or to further the way of the Gospel. On the other hand, if one is not in the circumstance of prosperity but in the circumstance of need, one learns again from St Paul “to rejoice in one’s sufferings for the sake of others, so that in our flesh we may do our share on behalf of Christ’s body, which is his Church, to fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”
If the disciple of Christ is content in prosperity or in need it is because his heart is set on Christ, not on worldly success or riches. The beauty of the Church is the beauty of the Spirit, which is not of this world. The beauty of the Church is therefore hidden; it is secret; it cannot be seen by the eyes of that heart whose treasure is worldly success and riches. It can be seen only by the eyes of that heart whose treasure is Christ and the things of Christ – that is to say, whose treasure is the Cross of Christ and the way of denying oneself in order to gain one’s soul in Christ.
With this, we are able now to address what I believe is the real point of this morning’s Gospel parable. The rich man, languishing in the torments of Hades, asks Abraham to raise Lazarus up from the dead to warn his five brothers that there is life after death and a judgment. Abraham answers: “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them hear them.” The rich man says what I think many of us think in our own minds: “No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!” Abraham answers: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.”
The point is this: it’s not what we see with our eyes; it’s not what we can measure with our empirical senses or figure out with our rational mind; it’s what we love in our heart that determines whether or not we will believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. This is the same point Jesus makes to the Pharisees when he rebukes them on another occasion, as recorded by St John: “You search the Scriptures (i.e. Moses and the prophets) because you think that in them you have eternal life; yet it is these that bear witness to me.” As Jesus says, the Pharisees do not receive him because they receive their “glory from each other; they do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God.” In other words, their heart is set on the worldly riches of human praise and esteem. Therefore, Jesus says to them: “Do not think that it is I who will accuse you before the Father. The one who will accuse you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you had believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me.”
There is no excuse for the Gentiles either. Even though they do not have Moses and the prophets, they have nature that will accuse them for their unbelief; for the heavens are telling the glory of God. Heaven and earth are full of his glory.
It’s not what we see with our eyes, it’s not what we can measure with our empirical senses or figure out with our rational mind; it’s what we love in our heart that will determine if we see what the Scriptures are writing about: the glorious mystery of Jesus Christ that was hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to his saints, making known to you who love God, whether Jew or Gentile, what are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. If we chase after the praise of men, the esteem of others, if we seek our security and our comfort in a good portfolio, then Christ will be hidden to us. Even if the risen Christ were to appear to us – as in fact he does in the worship of his holy Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who is all in all – if we do not love him in our hearts, if we are not putting our trust in him, if we are looking to find our comfort and security in the good things of the world and not pursuing the way of his Cross, denying ourselves for his sake, we will not see him, we will not believe him. We will be Christian in name only, having the form of religion but denying by our worldly life and values the substance of it.
How, then, do we come to believe in that glory of Christ which is hidden to worldly eyes? How do we deny ourselves and take up our Cross daily to follow Christ? Through faith, which is not blind but full of light, because faith is walking in the light of Christ’s commandments as Christ himself is in the light. Christ’s commandments are the light of God on the earth. And the first commandment of Christ is “to repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” To repent means to change one’s mind; to change what one allows the mind to dwell on: to turn it away from dwelling on the things of the world to dwelling on the things of the Spirit. The mind is the ‘governor,’ the ‘ruling principle’ of our being. With our mind, we determine on what treasure our heart is set. To repent means to go deep into our heart through prayer and fasting in order to lay hold of our will, and to turn it away from its fallen inclination to chase after the riches of the world, the comforts of the flesh for its happiness and security and to turn it in the direction of Jesus Christ and his commandments. To repent is to take up one’s cross daily by directing the mind inwardly, into the closet of one’s heart, in order to see and to confess one’s sins in the light of Christ’s Holy Spirit, and to cry out from the depths of one’s heart: Lord, have mercy on me a sinner. To repent is to lose one’s worldly life for the sake of Christ in order to gain the eternal life of his Holy Spirit, through the practice of Christ’s holy commandments, which are a light on the earth.
In his Church, which is his very body, the fullness of him who is all in all, Christ himself teaches us and helps us in the way of repentance. Through his commandments, he touches the eyes of our heart and opens them, so that when we practice them, our eyes are opened to see in faith the beauty and the glory of Christ’s Holy Spirit that fills the way of Christ’s Cross with the light and life of God for all those who love him. Amen.