Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst
thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things:
but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
(St. Luke xvi. 25)
Last week we were invited to participate in the life of God the Holy Trinity, one God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. We have entered Trinity Tide. Trinity tide is all about belief that grows into God’s Wisdom and Love. Trinity tide is about submitting to the Being of God the Father, embracing His Wisdom and Word in the Son by the Love and Will of the Holy Ghost. Our season of Trinity is the longest in the Church Year because it takes time to allow God to penetrate our being, knowing, and loving.
Now, as we all know, learning to love God’s Wisdom and Love is difficult. In fact, we really do need to have a vision or knowledge of His Goodness if we hope to apply it to our lives. In the New Testament, we are constantly reminded of what this vision is and is not. Today, we learn from the Pharisees what it is not and from our Lord Jesus Christ the true vision of it. Prior to today’s Gospel, Jesus had just warned His hearers that Ye cannot serve God and Mammon. (St. Luke xvi. 13) Mammon means both riches and possessions in both the Hebrew and Greek. It can also mean that in which one trusts. Archbishop Trench reminds us that while the Pharisees’ way of life was sparing and austere –many of them were ascetics…. their sins were in the main spiritual, (Par., 343) their real sin was covetousness. For they did not trust in God’s provision, were all rooted in unbelief, in a heart set on this world, refusing to give credence to that invisible world, here known only to faith. (Idem) Their theological vision extended only as far as the Ancient Law, and they believed that this was as close as man got to God. As a result, they enviously resented the vision of God’s Wisdom and Love in the life of Jesus Christ. They coveted their own vision and power.
So, Jesus gives them a parable. There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day….(St. Luke xvi. 19) St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the worship of Mammon is here illustrated in the prosperity of the wicked by way of temporal success. (St. TA: Hom. Trin. I) First, we read that the man was rich in earthly things. Second, he was clothed in purple –the costliest of colors in the ancient world, which adorned princes and kings. Third, in fine linen –secured only at a high price from the looms of Egypt. So, the rich man would have had a robe of princely purple and an inner tunic of the softest linen. We know that this was his customary attire since he wore it as he fared sumptuously every day. That he has no name is, according to the Archbishop Trench, indicative of the fact that he is everyman, or most men who live forever for this world and seldom give any thought for the next.
We read also that there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. (Ibid, 20,21) Those who are destined for the Kingdom have their names written in the Book of Life. The poor man’s name is Lazarus. His name is also translated as Eleazar, and it means the one whom God has helped. That he is a beggar is clear. But because he was full of sores (Idem), in earthly life he was unable to walk and so was carried and laid him at the rich man’s gate (Idem) by those who, no doubt, prayed the rich man would have mercy upon him. That there was no relief for this man’s hunger is seen in his desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. That stray dogs came and licked his sores, reveals that he was ignored by his fellow man. The brute beasts had compassion and mercy upon Lazarus clothed in sores while the rich man and his associates clothed in purple and fine linen fared sumptuously. One had hosts of attendants to wait upon his every caprice; only stray dogs tended to the sores of the other. (Trench, 349)
So, we find a great contrast between the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus’ sickness and poverty provide us with a vision of the external and visible signs of man’s true state without the Grace of God. St. Thomas tells us that Lazarus reveals to us that adversity in this present life, though short-lived, characterizes the life of the saint in three ways. First, there is poverty of possessions –a beggar named Lazarus is a vision of spiritual indigence and that poverty of spirit that needs God more than anyone else. And fear not, my son, that we are made poor: for thou hast much wealth if thou fear God and depart from all sin and do that which is pleasing in His sight. (Tobit iv, 21) The vision of true riches is found when we fear God and depend upon Him for any and all manner of goodness that He might bestow upon us. Second, St. Thomas says, the life of a Saint is found in contempt of this world. ‘Lazarus was laid at his gate.’ ‘We are made as the filth of the world and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.’ (1 Cor. iv. 13) If men follow Jesus, the vision of God, they will be ignored and abandoned at rich men’s gates, who ignore them. Third, the saints will endure bitterness of tribulations and afflictions –‘Full of sores.’ Discipline and correction provide a vision of the means that our Heavenly Father uses to refine our faith, perfect our hope, and deepen our love for Him in Jesus Christ by the Holy Ghost. For whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth. (Hebrews xii. 6)
Next, we read, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. (Ibid, 22) Lazarus is a vision of the Saint who is taken to Paradise at the time of his death. We learn also that the rich man died and found himself in Hell whence he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (Ibid, 23) St. Thomas reminds us, Lazarus was received with honor and glory by the Angels. The rich man was buried with honor and glory by unnamed earthly men...only to end up in Hell. (Idem) Lazarus is relieved of his suffering and pain and we hear no more from him because Heaven’s Mercy is now his treasure. The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God and there shall no torment touch them. (Wis. iii. 1) But the Rich Man, like the covetous Pharisees, is left out. His soul and body are tormented because he coveted his vision of God in the religious duties of his own day and did not love his poor neighbour. To make matters worse, he has a vision of Paradise and knows that Lazarus is in a better state, having been relieved of his earthly suffering and poverty. So, he cries, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. (Idem, 24) The Rich Man cries out for relief from his earthly body’s torture because, like the Pharisees, he is still covets the vision of his former position. Send Lazarus to me; surely he is now fit enough to wait upon me!
The parable gives us a vision of the hard truth of God’s Justice. Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. (Ibid, 25) O thou who trusted not in God but in earthly mammon, who trusted in perishable commodities and relied upon them solely to ensure your impermanent happiness, see what you have forsaken! Because you did not believe and trust in me, saith the Lord, you shall live with what you desired most forever in eternity! Men have one life to live, and at death they shall be judged. When a man dies, he is either taken up or cast down. If he is taken up, he cannot descend to help his lost brothers; if he is cast down, he cannot ascend. At the end of life, the vision of God or gods shall be rewarded with Heaven or Hell. The rich man, with his eyes still centered on earth, asks Abraham to rescue his earthly family. Send Lazarus to my brethren that he might serve up the truth to them (Ibid, 29), for if they see Lazarus risen from the dead, they will believe. (Ibid, 30) Abraham assures him that they will not be persuaded though one rose from the dead since they did not hear Moses and the Prophets. (Ibid)
Even a vision of Resurrection seldom saves covetous ‘good men’. For I say unto you that unless your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matt. V. 20) We have a vision of this in Christ on His Cross where, though He became Lazarus, poor and abandoned, in the poverty of His death, He was already hard at work doing for poor fallen men what they could not do for themselves.
In this life, Lazarus was poor, but he is now rich in Paradise. The rich man is now poor in Hell, clinging arrogantly to the vision of God that rejects His Wisdom and Love in Jesus Christ. The rich man is destined to live forever in the illusion of his own worth. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love. (1 John iv 8)
Today, by God’s Grace, let us acquire a vision of ourselves in poor Lazarus, reaching out to Christ alone, knowing that we cannot pass through Heaven’s gate unless we obtain Heaven’s mercy, ‘hoping to obtain crumbs that fall from [God’s] table’. Lazarus, full of sores, is like Christ on His Cross, longing to make His death into new life. In Lazarus and in Christ, we desire to eat of the crumbs that fall from [God’s] table. Like Lazarus, if I have no strength of will, no nobility of disposition, no excellence of character, Christ says, “Blessed are you”, because it is through this poverty that I enter His Kingdom….I can only enter His Kingdom as a pauper. (O. Chambers, August 21) Lazarus the pauper is a vision of Christ who became poor, that [we] through His poverty, might be rich. (2 Cor. viii. 9)
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