Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Who of us, beloved, does not know or does not recall this parable of the rich man without a name and the beggar, Lazarus? It is no doubt most familiar to all of us. This parable is unusual because in it our Lord uses a name, which is to say, He calls the beggar by name whereas the “’certain rich man’” remains forever anonymous. Brethren, we can stand assured this morning, in the words of St. Ambrose, that “death cannot be put off with a payment of money, and the last day carries off rich and poor alike.” And, “’so it was that the beggar died’” as did the rich man. No amount of accumulated wealth or material goods can stay the hand of the angel of death. He treats both rich and poor alike, young as well as old, healthy and infirm, man and woman. “[I]t is appointed unto men once to die,” says Sacred Scripture, “but after this the Judgment” (Hb. 9:27). The rich man died and so did the beggar, Lazarus.
We find them both, then, in Hades – the abode of the dead: Lazarus, in what is called here Abraham’s bosom, and the nameless rich man in a part of Hades that, like him, is nameless but carries with it a foretaste of judgment. And, “’a great gulf’” is fixed between them so that no passage between the parts of Hades is permitted. In the dialogue recorded, we find that death has not changed the rich man one iota towards Lazarus. All dialogue is directed to the ancient Patriarch, Abraham, in a fashion that mimics the rich man’s earthly life. He knows Lazarus’ name. He calls him Lazarus. But, this makes his life all the more damnable because, knowing the beggar’s name, he knew him as a person, a human being, a brother and fellow bearer of the divine image. And, yet the rich man somehow ignores the soul of the beggar laid at his gate, just beyond the door of his home. He knows Lazarus by name and he ignores him. He ignores his plight and his state of being. The rich man is dressed in all the finery his money could buy and he dines sumptuously each and every day. Lazarus lies just outside the gate clad in sores, dreaming of a day he might lick the crumbs from off the rich man’s table. The rich man no doubt has attendants who wait on him; Lazarus has only the dogs – uninvited – who attend to him because they can lick his sores, just as dogs like to do.
In death, both men receive their reward, as father Abraham reminds the rich man. In life, the rich man received good things while Lazarus evil things, but now in death their fortunes are reversed! Now, the mournful Lazarus is comforted, and the rich man tormented. Now, Lazarus is dressed in the garment of salvation while the rich man is distressed, licked by the flame from which he begs Lazarus’ intervention. Now, Lazarus fares sumptuously at Abraham’s table and the rich man knows poverty – the poverty of mercilessness and of lack of compassion – the very things he could have extended to the beggar just beyond his home but neglected to do for reasons unknown to us but known to God Who will be our Judge.
We need to do good while we can, beloved, and not keep putting it off, saying to ourselves, “Tomorrow I’ll get around to it. Tomorrow, I’ll make amends. Tomorrow, I’ll ask forgiveness from the soul I’ve wronged. Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow . . . . .” Who of us here knows whether we have another tomorrow left to us? In death, what makes us think we would be any different than we were in life? The rich man, even in death, does not repent, does not beg Lazarus’ forgiveness or implore God the Almighty for mercy. Who knows if the outcome would be different if he had immediately confessed his egregious sin of omission to his father confessor, Abraham, and repented?
In this same chapter from Luke, our Lord tells another parable, a parable about an unrighteous steward whose master got wind of some irregularities and improprieties in the steward’s management of his goods (Lk. 16:1-13). He is called to account and dismissed because of his mismanagement. But, before he’s fired, the steward shrewdly finesses his master’s accounts one more time by striking bargains with those who owed his master money but who had not yet re-paid him or had been stalling. In his wheeling and dealing, the steward got back for his master a portion of what was owed to him while, at the same time, he made himself favorable to his master’s debtors who would perhaps re-pay the favor some day when the steward was in need. Jesus doesn’t applaud the steward’s questionable ethics, but He does laud his shrewdness. He praises the steward’s prudence of his action in preparing for his future. “’For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation,’” our Lord says, “’than the sons of light.’” We who are sons of the day could learn a thing or two about being prudent and getting ready from the unrighteous steward (1 Th. 5:1-11). “’And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.’” This is what our Lord instructs us to do. Be prudent or shrewd by “investing” in the poor so that when we die those who were blessed with our almsgiving will receive us into everlasting habitations. St. John Chrysostom teaches us that we can safely bank our wealth and material goods in the bellies of the poor. It is our Lord, isn’t it, Who teaches us to “’lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven’” (Mt. 6:19-21)? As does St. Paul (1 Tm. 6:17-19). And, doesn’t Jesus also say, “’Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, . . . .’” (Lk. 12:33-34)? He counsels us to “’do good and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. . . . Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful’” (Lk. 6:35-36). In fact, Jesus also teaches us that the measure we use to dole out mercy – alms – is the same measure that God will measure back to us (Lk. 6:38)! What the “’certain rich man’” sowed in life, he reaped in death! He had not been prudent in making friends with unrighteous mammon. Truly, “he who gives to no one becomes poorer by it” (Clement of Alexandria)!
The Fathers tell us that our possessions test us. They present us opportunities for goodness. One wonders if the anonymous rich man may have been on the mind of St. James, the brother of our Lord, when he says,
If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (Jm. 2:15-17).
What good is goodness if it does not benefit another? Perhaps the rich man might have been good (at least his neighbors might have thought so), but what did it profit him in the end if his goodness remained hidden and inactive (Mt. 5:13-16)? Indeed, how did it benefit Lazarus the beggar who needed an outpouring of goodness? How often did the rich man pass through his gates and by the beggar and wish him health and prosperity each time? He obviously did nothing more than that (if, in fact, he even did that!) despite having the wherewithal to make a difference in the life of that beggar!
Brethren, God gives to each of us a Lazarus in our lives. Who is that for you? God makes the rich just as He does the poor. The Fathers suggest that He makes the one to bless with their generosity so that they might be like unto God in graciousness and goodness, the other to spark goodness in others and to be like unto God in all humility. Who is your Lazarus at your gates who needs your alms of mercy and goodness? Hear these words of wise and prudent counsel from Sirach. He writes,
He that is merciful will lend unto his neighbor, . . . Lend to thy neighbor in time of his need, and pay thou thy neighbor again in due season. Keep thy word, and deal faithfully with him, and thou shalt always find the thing that is necessary for thee. . . . Many . . . have refused to lend . . . fearing to be defrauded. Yet, have thou patience with a man in poor estate, and delay not to show him mercy. Help the poor for the commandment’s sake, and turn him not away because of his poverty. Lose thy money for thy brother and thy friend, and let it not rust under a stone to be lost. Lay up treasure according to the commandments of the Most High, and it shall bring thee more profit than gold. Shut up alms in thy storehouses, and it shall deliver thee from all affliction. It shall fight for thee against thine enemies better than a mighty shield and strong spear (Sr. 29:1-13).
If the rich man in today’s parable had heeded these wise and prudent words, how might his end have been different? Beloved, let us do good and let us not grow weary in doing good. For “in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Ga. 6:9-10).
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!