Today we hear the story of the rich man and Lazarus. It is a story that ought to make us stand back and take account of our lives and see whether or not we are on the right path. Why should we do this? Because Jesus our Lord offers us a reality that we in the modern world do not really accept. He tells us that the afterlife is real. He tells us that heaven and hell both exist. He tells us that God His Father will hold us accountable for every word and deed that we have ever done in this life. The Lord reminds us that everything that we do matters. Everything that we do either shows that we believe in the God of love, or that we deny this God.
The focus of the story is on the rich man who is given no name. St. Augustine tells us that the man is not named because he is not named and numbered among those in heaven. His name is not written in the book of life. St. Augustine also tells us that the problem was not that this man was rich. The problem was that he was greedy with his wealth. He did not understand his wealth as a sign of God’s love and mercy for him. He did not stop to think about the many ways that God had provided for him. Rather he thought of his own wealth as simply the fruit of his hard work or his intelligence or his talent. He used this wealth for his own enjoyment without regard for the needs of others. If he did not understand the truth of his own situation in life, there was absolutely no way that he could understand the situation of the beggar Lazarus, who was in need.
The rich man did not see God’s hand in his life. If you don’t have gratitude for God’s work in your life, how can you ever be God’s hands in the world? How can you help others unless you first realize that God has been helping you? The gospel shows us that the rich man is detached from reality. His life of self-indulgence is also detached from others, and their needs. We know that he was self-indulgent because we are told that he feasted sumptuously every day and wore the finest garments. His focus was on himself and his pleasures. When one spends his time focused on making himself feel good, he becomes numb to the needs of those around him and numb to his own deep need for a relationship with God. He also becomes numb to the fact that he will not live forever but will one day leave behind all of those things that he so enjoyed.
On the other hand, we generally view our biggest problems in life as suffering and sickness as well as injustices. Yet Scripture continually shows us that it is through suffering and sickness that God can open our hearts to Him. When we are suffering it is very difficult to be under illusions. We see the reality of who we are, the reality of our frailty and the reality of our actual need for God. It is of utmost important that we as Christian can sense this reality while we are here on earth. It is too late once we have passed from this life to the next. This is exactly the reality that the rich man faced on the day that he passed from this life to the next.
One day he was the king of his world. He did not even notice the poor man who was begging near his table. The next day, he died and realized that he alone was truly poor. He had spent his life accumulating wealth and treasures of a material nature, but on the inside he was devastatingly poor. He was poor in faith, poor in love, poor in mercy. He did not realize any of this until he was separated from the body and in the place of the dead, feeling torment in Hades. At this moment he learned that it was true. There is indeed an afterlife and there is indeed suffering for those who do not know and love God and His ways. If one spends his life neglecting works of mercy for others, he will not know love. If he doesn’t know love through the care of others, the fathers of the Church say that he will in no ways know God. St. Silouan of Mt. Athos wrote
“The Lord wants us to love one another. Here is freedom: in love for God and neighbor. In this freedom, there is equality. In earthly orders, there may not be equality, but this is not important for the soul. Not everyone can be a king, not everyone a patriarch or a boss. But in any position it is possible to love God and to please Him, and only this is important. And whoever loves God more on earth will be in greater glory in His Kingdom.”
In any position it is possible to love God and to please Him. We please Him when we love our neighbors and even our enemies and when we realize that they are created in the image and likeness of God. We please Him also when we understand that God created us to serve and to love others and not only to spend our days trying to please and comfort ourselves. As we comfort others, the Lord, the Holy Spirit, through His grace, comes to dwell within us and give us divine and comfort and this comfort can never be taken away from us by anyone, or even by death.
Let us not be like the rich man who was caught off guard. Instead let us heed the warning of the Lord Jesus, who loves us dearly as His children. Now is the time to repent. Now is the time to take heed and be watchful. Now is the time to demonstrate our love for God and bring it to life by our love for those in need.
If we can struggle faithfully to do this then the grace of God will be with us and will allow us to rejoice along with Lazarus, in the bosom of Abraham, in the dwelling place of the righteous with all of the saints. AMEN.